Fi Europe CONNECT 2020 will bring together European food and ingredient innovators through a digital platform that will include more than 300 exhibitors, 100-plus on-demand sessions, and 16 expert sessions.
The COVID-19 pandemic means this year's event isn’t taking place in the usual vast, crowded trade halls. However, Informa, Fi Europe’s organiser, still expects to draw in more than 8,000 attendees over a two-week period (23 November-4 December).
“The food and beverage industry has proven to be an incredibly reliable partner in these difficult times. But the need to share ideas and innovations, as well as provide a place for networking and education, has never been more important,” Julien Bonvallet, Fi Europe Brand Director, told FoodNavigator.
“With Fi Europe CONNECT, we are implementing virtually the essence of Fi Europe co-located with Hi Europe: international networking, sourcing and learning, with a strong emphasis on lead generation and business matchmaking.”
What is Bonvallet most excited for at this year’s event?
“I think my highlight is the fact that, through Fi Europe CONNECT, we can provide a virtual meet-up platform for all those involved in the food and beverage industry. And with the current line-up of exhibitors and comprehensive programme featuring thought leaders from around the world, we’re confident of a successful event. But what makes me especially happy and proud is the amount of encouragement, support and trust we have received from all sides in recent weeks.”
Partnering for success
Collaboration is a key theme expected to emerge at this year’s event as people and companies seek out new ways to connect and build relationships.
The business of doing business remains at the heart of Fi Europe’s purpose and Informa believes it has developed a digital event that can mimic the face-to-face trade show experience. “The main reason people visit Fi Europe co-located with Hi Europe is to generate contacts – and that has remained our goal during the changeover. We want to make it as easy as possible for all involved to find suitable solutions, inspiration, ingredients or partners, to network and to make virtual appointments with just a few clicks,” Bonvallet explained.
Michael Hughes, Director of Insights at FMCG Gurus, believes that partnering with your supply chain is an absolute necessity in the new normal of a COVID world.
The coronavirus pandemic, which hit Europe at the beginning of this year, has placed pressure on food industry supply chains. But security is just one aspect of the need to develop close relationships with your suppliers, Hughes suggested.
"Strategic partnerships are more important in order to leverage synergies as well as offering reassurance around the safe handling of ingredients along the supply chain and to ensure that the related health benefits of products are communicated in a clear and transparent manner. Consumers want to know the story behind the products that they purchase, meaning maximum communication and connection along the supply chain is vital.”
COVID spotlights health and immunity
The coronavirus crisis has accelerated a number of changes that were already evident in the food industry. Perhaps most significantly, it has driven home the link consumers make between diet and health.
“The pandemic has changed the way many consumers view food and ingredients – and this is mirrored in the trends that can be seen in our virtual show,” Bonvallet observed.
“Many people who are afraid of infection can take preventive action through a consciously balanced diet to support the body's own defence system, alongside hygiene and social distancing requirements. That’s why functional ingredients that support immune and gut health, as well as helpful micronutrients, are popular among food manufacturers.”
Hughes, who will be speaking at Fi Europe CONNECT, echoed this observation.
“We expect immunity to be a major area of focus at this year's event. Over the last twelve months, the industry had to re-evaluate views towards health, as greater focus is placed on disease management. Consumers have become more concerned about their immune health and are being more proactive in order to address this. This will result in a host of innovation with products and ingredients positioned around addressing everyday issues such as common colds,” he told us.
Elsewhere, Bonvallet sees a number of other megatrends remaining front-of-mind among consumers whose attitudes are currently shaped by their experience of COVID-19.
“Sustainability, as well as plant-based and clean label, are core trends: With a virus striking the very heart of our social and economic life, humans tend to increasingly question how they can change their behaviour in order to make the world a better place. What’s more, in times of crisis, food safety, trust and transparency, as well as secure supply chains are critical,” he suggested.
Fi Europe CONNECT’s content line-up reflects these priorities. In the first week, Bonvallet said, ‘all of those trends’ will be covered with daily topics featuring live and on-demand expert sessions.
The second week of content turns to the future of innovation. “The Future of Nutrition will include panel discussions on the consequences of COVID-19 for the food industry, thought leader presentations and the Startup Innovation Challenge pitches.”
Innovating for the future of food
An off-shot of the pandemic, according to Hughes, is an increased level of innovation as food makers respond to the rapidly evolving needs of consumers.
“What is great to see is the industry’s response to the pandemic. Indeed, there seems to be a high level of new product development, with a focus on new and innovative ingredients. Over the last twelve months, we have seen a variety of new and 'hot‘ ingredients that have seen a surge in sales and it will be great to see what innovations are being targeted at consumers as they adjust to the new normal," he said.
Likewise, Bonvallet has observed a high level of innovation in the face of difficult circumstances. "The corona crisis has been tough for many sectors of the economy, but the food industry has shown enormous resilience and innovative power. That's why I'm looking forward to the exhibitors' new products - whether they be ingredients for immune health, blood sugar management or botanical ingredients to meet consumer desire for natural solutions. We will definitely see some of the innovations in the spotlight at the Fi Europe Innovation Awards and the Startup Innovation Challenge, which will also be held digitally this year.”
The Startup Innovation Challenge and Fi Europe Innovation Awards offer examples of the ‘advanced’ approach the food sector takes to production and development. “Think advanced blockchain systems and Industry 4.0,” Bonvallet elaborated.
“Here, entrants tackle precisely those topics, for example with smart labels that enable full digital traceability of a product for both consumers and manufacturers, or solutions to track sustainability and the carbon footprint in supply chains.”
Hughes also suggested that technological developments will advance innovation in the health and wellness space.
“Technology is something that will increasingly influence health and wellness over the next couple of years. This will happen in two ways. Firstly, consumers will increasingly want real-time information around their health and nutrition, in order to ensure that solutions are as effective as possible. Secondly, consumers will want personalized and customized solutions to their health problems and will expect technology to help facilitate this. Personalisation through digitalisation will be massive for the industry in years to come."
For the full line-up of topics, speakers and exhibitors at Fi Europe CONNECT 2020, click here.