The industry's brightest minds gathered at the NEC this March to celebrate the return of Foodex 2014 at Birminghamís NEC. The one-stop shop for manufacturing professionals delivered a wide array of innovative industry solutions for processing, packaging and logistics professionals while a panel of leading experts debated some of the industry's most pressing topics in the lively and engaging seminar theatre.

Taking place over three days (24-26 March 2014), over 350 exhibitors took to the show floor to shine a light on the top trends making an impact across the spectrum of food manufacturing sectors including bakery, beverage, dairy, fresh, ingredients, logistics, meat and seafood.

From improving traceability and consumer trust, transforming productivity or the latest food manufacturing processes to make an impression on the industry, visitors were spoilt for choice with a wide range of demonstrations and machinery available to view live at the show.

Speaking about the show, Mark Bishop, Joint Managing Director for Interfood said: We always put a lot of effort into our attendance at Foodex, with our employees supported by colleagues from many of the equipment and ingredients manufacturers that we represent. We are pleased not only with the number of enquiries but also with the quality, even taking orders for machines directly on the stand.

Martin Frost from Telsonic added: Foodex is an opportunity for us to gain insight and understanding into the state of the market, see the latest trends and understand the UKís manufacturing environment as of right now. Foodex is such a great forum for developing partnerships with other companies in the UK automation industry. Weíd encourage more companies and manufacturers to exhibit at the show, as we believe it helps to be a part of the community and drive communications and collaboration across the industry. Of course, it also helps for us to meet with people face to face and better understand their needs.î

Debating the food agenda
For visitors and exhibitors looking to discuss and debate the industry's hottest topics, Foodexís centre stage was packed full of masterclasses, interviews, panel debates and insight into some of the UKís most well respected brands and industry spokes persons.

One of the most hotly anticipated talks at the show addressed the consequences of the horsemeat scandal, chaired by Rod Addy of Food Manufacture Online Editor and featuring a panel of esteemed industry professionals including Lord Rooker, Food Standards Agency former chairman and English Beef and Lamb Executive sector director and Terry Jones, Food and Drink Federation communications director.

The panel agreed that although improvements have been made, a similar scandal could impact the industry again and called for more vigilance to build trust in the supply chain. The panel also agreed improved use of data and intelligence gathering would help prevent further fraudulent food scandals.

Another popular session at Foodex 2014 saw British journalist, broadcaster and former Conservative party politician and cabinet minister, Michael Portillo lead a discussion on the future challenges facing the food and drink industry. During the session, Portillo addressed the issue of salt and sugar regulation within the industry and what could be done in response to rising consumer concerns.

In other seminars and workshops, visitors stopped by the centre stage gained an insight into the importance of collaboration across the supply chain with Keith Newton, CILT and SCALA Consulting; the impact of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation with Steve Spice, Head of Regulatory Affairs for Campden BRI and the role of renewable energy across the food and drink industries, with Richard Gutterbock, Marketing Director for Clearfleau.

Finally, the closing day of the show saw Food Manufacture Group Editor, Mike Stones who was joined by Jon Poole, CEO for the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Justine Fosh, CEO for the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink, address the current skills gap within the industry. The panel agreed that a more coordinated approach was required to attract younger people to the sector as well as promoting the industry as a whole to the younger generation, who are not aware of the opportunities available to them.

Linda Walker from Stephan, said: ìWeíve been very impressed by the show and the Michael Portillo event was outstanding. Foodex opens the eyes of consumers and helps put us in the spotlight, which is very positive. Weíve had good quality leads and a lot of hot prospects. Weíve exhibited at the show in the past and we will be exhibiting at the next show in 2016.

Great British Bounce Back
The 2014 winner of the Great British Bounce Back competition was also revealed at Foodex 2014. The competition, which returned to the NEC following its success at the 2012 event, showcased the best practice examples from across the food and drink industry, recognising those businesses that have gone the extra mile to invest in the future of the industry.

The winners, British Bakels, fought off tough competition from a range of food manufacturers and equipment suppliers. The judges revealed the winners had demonstrated a commitment to investment in cutting edge technology and sustainable production following a £2.5 million investment over the past two years, including £1.7m in new equipment and a new baking centre.

British Bakels, scooped the Great British Bounce Back crown from 2012 winners, the Fabulous Baker Brothers, who were also in attendance to share their mixture of crowd-pleasing entertainment and informative culinary knowledge.

Building opportunities for Foodex exhibitors
With three days of packed aisles, busy stands and lots of engaging discussions to participate in, there is no surprise that exhibitors have been quick to snap up their spots on the show floor for 2016.

Sean Smith, CEO of exhibitor Detectamet, said: We've had some really great leads from all over the country including some of the UK's largest manufacturing companies. It's been the best show we've ever exhibited at and one of the best in the UK and weíve been exhibiting for over 10 years! In terms of leads ñ it has been second to none; the response has been incredible and weíve been overwhelmed by the interest.

We've now booked again for the show in 2016. We recognise the value of exhibiting at Foodex 2014 and truly believe the exhibition is a great platform to promote British manufacturing.

James Airey, John Lord Specialist Flooring added: ìThe diversity of exhibitors and the scale of the show is fantastic, itís the biggest trade show for us. Not only is it important for us but itís important for the UK in terms of speaking to multi nationals and selling to companies based abroad.î

Speaking about the success of Foodex 2014, WRBM Event Director, Dan Dixon, said: There was a great buzz on the show floor at this yearís Foodex and we've been delighted with the feedback and support shown from leading brands within the industry, covering the 8 food and drink sectors. The uptake for 2016 has been phenomenal with over 100 customers re-booking onsite and 44 percent of sqm already confirmed for the 2016 floor plan. With such enthusiasm from the industry, weíre delighted that Foodex is helping exhibitors share their own innovations and get the opportunity to learn from best practices examples too.