Sitting in the spring sunshine overlooking the world famous Oval cricket ground, it’s easy to forget there is work here to be done. Ingredients must be tasted, insight must be provided. No-one leaves Tastes of Better without a full stomach and an even fuller head, stuffed with development expertise and a new appreciation of the latest and greatest in ingredients innovation.
Attendance was limited to 250 guests to enhance the experience for all involved, with just five companies running tasting and insight sessions. RSSL also sponsored the networking element of the event. Anyone recently returning to the world of giant expos (after their own enforced hiatus) may recognise the appeal of a scaled down setting, allowing for meaningful and constructive dialogue between food and drink developers and ingredients providers. As a bonus, there was no need to wear trainers to spare your feet, because epic walks from vast hangar to vast hangar are absent at Tastes of Better.
Five sessions, all very different, were staggered throughout the day with breaks in-between, plus lunch. And at 4:15pm sharp, there was a final drinks session and a speech from Michelin-starred chef and London restaurateur Alexis Gauthier. But everything started at 10am, where IFF was serving a zero-alcohol elderflower champagne-style drink and a crostini topped with black olive tapenade and a fluffy pile of vegan-parmesan. Then we went into a dining room to have the first course, a plant-based pork scratching with plant-based bacon and blueberry compote with maple syrup. This tasting trio set the tone for Tastes of Better, sophisticated, playful and insightful, but also satisfying and rewarding for both the guests and the businesses taking part.
IFF then served an vegan ‘beef’ Rendang to an overwhelmingly positive reaction. “Are you positive it’s plant-based? I am shocked,” said one guest. Every time a course featuring IFF ingredients was served, guests were talked through the innovation they were eating or drinking by the IFF team, and sessions were peppered with inquisitive questions from the floor.
“The engagement with the guests today was very, very positive,” said IFF’s North Europe sales leader, Laurent Venzi. “Having the proximity and the closeness, to be able to sit together and have more one-to-one discussions [with the guests], and to taste food and spend quality time with them, I think it was very insightful. It helped us better understand what mattered most for all the visitors and what is important to them. We were able to showcase lots of different products, from a starter to a main course and all the drinks. This was a big highlight because it’s so difficult [for us] to single out only one product.”
Elsewhere, significant extensions to shelf-life were on show at the Kemin sessions, with Kemin frying up equally significant amounts of chips to demonstrate how adding its natural rosemary-based solutions to oil prolongs the shelf-life of the product being fried, and the oil it’s fried in. It harvests the great swathes of pungent rosemary it uses via a vertically-integrated eco-friendly supply chain. But perhaps more significantly for some, Kemin says adding its solution to frying oil means it can be used for up to 50% longer with no resulting impact on flavour. Being able to communicate that simplest of selling points while people could eat the product and not taste the difference, was highly effective.
“Today has been a great day, it’s been an amazing sensation, really,” said Hugo Marfleet, technical sales manager at Kemin. “We’ve shown what we can do with examples of food, highlighting how well it tastes without affecting the taste. And you’ve been able to mix with people you’re interested to be mixing with, and talk about solutions and ideas and how you can help. Everybody’s gone round all the different sponsors, everyone’s engaged. We’ve talked about three different scenarios in food, and how we help to preserve and maintain food quality, and it’s just been phenomenal, really. To have that level of interest and engagement from the developers who have been seeking how we can help to support them as much as we’re informing them how we can help them, it’s been a win-win all round for everybody. It’s been a great day.”
Beneo meanwhile showcased an array of solutions in a short space of time. Its meatless meatballs were meaty, its tuna-less tuna was tuna-like, one guest summed up its meatless chicken chunks as having “no artificial aftertaste, nice and soft, and not chewy“. Another said the texture was “amazing“.
One of the huge potentials plant-based food offers is its adaptability in terms of fortifying products. Beneo explained how customisable its products could be, whether alternative meat or dairy, especially when considering how, for example, to balance consumer desire for added protein or fibre with the consumer desire for clean-labels when it comes to ingredients. The beauty of having these technical conversations at Tastes of Better is that when questions did come from guests there was time to answer them properly and satisfactorily, with all the requisite detail, rather than trying to communicate inside the cacophony of a cavernous trade show.
“We presented our latest developments for five large groups of people, and it was great,” said Jos Hugense, industry veteran and CEO of Meatless, which was recently acquired by Beneo. “It’s different, you have more direct contact. And there’s a large range of technical people, R&D people, NPD people, which is very interesting for us. They’re really looking into new product development in the future for developing products in their organisations. It’s a compact way to meet many people. If you if you had to visit them all it would get pretty complicated!”
Eating and drinking engages the senses like no other activity, something Sweegen’s session took full advantage of. Overcoming the technical and practical challenges of creating a fully immersive ‘room within a room’, in a building that was not intended to house a bombastic collision of light, sound and vision, in a short space of time, was an impressive achievement in itself. But it had the desired effect. Sweegen’s guests explored the subconscious reasons we make the food and drink choices that we do, to help inform development from a holistic perspective. Sweegen’s sessions also allowed people to indulge in a variety of cocktails created with Sweegen’s array of sweetening solutions.
“The engagement with the delegates and the guests has been really phenomenal, to be honest,” said Damian Bellusci, VP of sales for EMEA & APAC at Sweegen. “It’s been a show that’s really helped us gather a tighter network in terms of people and clients that we can reach out to. It’s been really powerful for us to be able to converse almost on a one-to-one level with these clients or potential customers.”
Natasha Dsouza, VP Taste and Consumer Experience at Sweegen, said being able to “pull off something so disruptive and unique and create an environment where people felt natural… it wasn’t clinical, it wasn’t coming to listen to a presentation, it was like they were coming to have a conversation with Sweegen. And we were happy with the types of conversations we ended up having, because of how we chose to do our session.”
Finally, MycoTechnology held its session in the venerable Long Room at the Oval, the largest available space, and perhaps the most impressive room in the venue. Memorable cricketing moments have been viewed from here, like England winning the Ashes after waiting 16 years in 2005, Sir Len Hutton’s record breaking innings of 364 in 1938, and perhaps the best batsman of all time, Sir Donald Bradman, playing his final test innings at the ground.
The Long Room was built in 1845, making it 178 years old. MycoTechnology was founded in 2013, making it ten years old. It felt like an apt setting to explore the merging of the old and the new, and MycoTechnology’s presentation did exactly that, looking at how and why the reasons we eat food have evolved, as humans themselves have evolved from prehistoric man to become increasingly sentient, all the while reacting and adapting to the changing environment around them. It was fascinating to zoom out from the noise around the proliferation of plant-based products and explore the overarching reasons behind the shift in focus towards plant-based food.
The old meets new theme was given even more gravitas when the tastings began. MycoTechnology has perfected using mycelia (the roots of mushrooms, which formed part of prehistoric diets) to create award-winning plant-based proteins and bitter blockers. Fusing this vast, ancient and natural plant-based resource with cutting edge future-tech is what MycoTechnology does, as part of its tasting menu it served a vodka coffee which tasted perfectly natural and creamy, without a trace of bitterness. Guests responded in kind. “I thought the products were amazing,” said one. “Well ahead of some others on the market.“
“The engagement has been amazing,” said MycoTechnology marketing director Jonas Feliciano. “This was such an intimate setting with a very sophisticated crowd. Knowing we were able to tailor both the products we were showing to that audience, as well as our presentation, meant the engagement was at such a high level. I really thought we moved from top of funnel all the way to almost bottom of funnel with some conversations throughout the day.”
Rounding things up was RSSL, who hosted the final drinks and networking session. Carole Bingley, product and ingredient innovation technical specialist at RSSL, summed things up nicely. “We’ve been meeting with lots of peers and colleagues around the industry,” she said. “We were able to sit with people, form relationships, and bond over the great products that we were tasting.”
Tastes of Better will return in Manchester on 16 May, and in London from 9 to 12 October. And everything you need to know about participating in future Tastes of Better events, or attending them, can be found here.