I was in Birmingham last week for The Hospitality Show, a little different from the events that I usually am involved in – no sign of tractors, dirt, work boots or trees, instead hotel interiors, chef equipment and what seemed like the world’s largest range of chocolate fountains (no sign of these going out of fashion then!) I was involved in a food theatre event and had the great experience of working with some really inspiring Chefs. Not only were they there as advocates of British food but they were sharing some food trends – not only is fashion about clothes it is about flavours and presentation too. There were several dishes that were new ways of presenting ‘surf and turf’ – shell fish with lamb was one particularly outstanding dish. Diver caught scallops and salt marsh lamb – focussing on their provenance, their ethical sourcing but also the importance of knowing who they came from, paying the right price to ensure the sustainability of source.

This last point – sustainability through adequate payment is a hot topic at present. All areas of farming are feeling the horrible impact of the food value depression at present but none more so than the dairy sector. Retailers are becoming polarised in the milk market with Sainsburys taking the step to advertise the payment levels across eight retailers stating farmers ‘who produce our milk should also make a living’. It was a brave step. They don’t pay the most that the advert revealed but it also showed that costs of production weren’t being met by the majority of retailers. Tesco and JS hold a large proportion of the marketing share of course, it was the discounters who are causing everyone such pain who make up the rest of the marketplace and whom were paying below the cost of production. The top three payers holding to their promise to pay above production costs, maintaining a long term supply relationship which also involved price matching to competitors while not disadvantaging their farmers by absorbing the loss of margin themselves. The NFU, understandably, praised such transparency and who also challenged all retailers to support the industry throughout the whole dairy product chain. Tesco has also been shouting about its support for dairy production partners through youtube videos and blogs, committing to a stability in difficult times and with the blog calling for support from the whole retail industry to help plans for the future.

For my part I’m really pleased to see that the farmers who give up enormous amounts of time and intellect for the retailer sector groups have such a strong relationship with their customers, and that they have been brave enough to analyse costs of production and have shared the data. So much of the food we produce is a commodity and there are plenty of producers off shore who look at our retailer relationships with great envy; as horrible an arena we sometimes think we trade in, it is so much worse elsewhere currently.

In the off shore arena, I’m off to Berlin for Fruit Logistica at the beginning of February, always interesting to see what the international marketing desks are doing, check out new equipment and to listen to the wider reports of produce trading. The show is as large as ever, more new product launches than the last few years too so there is movement and innovation despite hard times.