Some regions of the world are synonymous with a specific industry, and even a specific trade show that defines the city as the hub of that industry over time. If North American auto culture takes influence from the likes of the Detroit Auto show, European food and hospitality culture takes influence from both of Milan’s two trade shows, TUTTOFOOD and HostMilano. TUTTOFOOD is the B2B event for the entire agri-food ecosystem, and HostMilano the world trade fair dedicated to catering and hospitality. Historically these sprawling trade shows have two dedicated time frames in which they take place throughout the year.
For the first time in 2021, after closures, cancellations, and isolations stemming from the past 18 months, these two trade shows have joined forces and are presenting themselves as united and condensed for the restart of the global agri-food and hospitality industry. In case you’re wondering, what defines “global,” HostMilano 2021 featured 1,344 brands from 43 countries and TUTTOFOOD 1,421 brands from 31 countries.
It would be easy to attend trade shows like this and become overwhelmed with the individual brands trying to strike business deals for a broader presence. But there’s more to be observed at these trade shows than just the vendors, products, and ambassadors. This is the heart of agri-food culture; this is the heart of the spirit of hospitality. And the united energy and enthusiasm for this industry is undeniable and beautiful. There are emergent themes that I believe came from 18 months of devastation, and the essence of human ingenuity to see the food and hospitality industry demonstrate its resilience by projecting itself into the future.
From the moment the show began featuring a panel of international delegates reflecting leadership of these industries, it became immediately apparent that values and purpose were the driving forces behind both shows and behind their joining forces.
I was here in 2017, and while sustainability was present, it was a sub brand of the major areas. This year, sustainability was the theme. It has risen so high on the agenda that it defines the theme.
Of the delegates present for both, industry leaders, community activists all spoke of collaboration; that we truly are united when working together and leveraging. Considering the number of brands, leading with collaboration is remarkable.
Made in Italy vs. Italian-sounding, pride in place, taste of place, vs. Italian-sounding products which are a result of commercialization. In the sea of sameness, authenticity remerges.
After observing merging trends from both shows, it was clear to me that these trends were a direct result of a change in the business practices of the agri-food and hospitality industry. Unlike previous years where trends were opportunities to harness more business from a short-term fad based on a niche market influencer, this year it was clear that the theme of what difference is being made by these trends was driving manufacturers and buyers who will both go on to make an indelible mark in a post-pandemic industry that will never be the same.
Sustainability Through Technology
Operators have long been presented technology solutions such as POS systems and other computer software promising results from cost savings to efficient operations. One of the most promising trends was seeing technology applied to sustainability.
- Smart foodservice equipment blending technology within the cooking equipment
- Digitizing the supply chain
- Energy saving equipment designed to advance environmental sustainability
Plants, Plants, Plants
Whether driven by mindful consumers or strategic operators, people are getting more behind plant-based products because their production is less damaging on the environment. Now that plant-based menus have demonstrated consistent taste and texture, foodservice professionals at both shows were lined up to experience the next wave in plant-based options. These included:
- Plant-based meat
- Plant proteins
- Plant fibre packaging
The Take-away Takeaway
Pre-pandemic the world of home meal replacements was substantial but not table stakes for the modern hospitality operation. We’ve seen the proliferation of gourmet level take-away menu options from restaurants, grocery stores and meal delivery companies. Takeaway occupied a significant space at both shows.
What can Canada learn from TUTTOFOOD and HostMilano 2021? The pressures of the pandemic forced operators to adapt to changing consumer demands the same way the pressures of a big game motivate an athlete to rise to the occasion. It would seem the force of industry managed to innovate and make the most out of the changing eating and drinking habits. This doesn’t mean out with the old and in with the new. It means the old world is learning new tricks. And collaborating. And the new world can benefit. If I was making a bold prediction for the coming year, I would say we will see more operators blending values with innovation and consumers responding with appreciation and loyalty.