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IFE 2017 Excel London The Curious Incident of the Missing Vegan Cheese

IFE 2017 Excel London The Curious Incident of the Missing Vegan Cheese

| by Tony Bishop-Weston

A visit to The International Food Exhibition IFE 2017 was, as always, overwhelming. Spread over 10 halls north and south of the enormous Excel, it’s huge. Even just visiting the green ‘Health & Wellbeing’ section didn’t seem to be a failsafe plan as there were a number of familiar vegetarian/ vegan companies that seem to have been cast adrift and placed at random, even they didn’t seem to know where they were.



Vegan Trade Show

It suddenly became clear why so many companies have welcomed VegfestUK Director Tim Barford’s idea of a 100% Vegan Trade Show. The Vegan market has exploded and yet there is nowhere for chefs, restaurant/café/hotel/pub owners, retailers from little delis to health food stores and supermarkets, nutritionist/dietitians and other health professionals and food manufacturers looking for creative new ideas to conveniently go and find solutions for the gaps in their offer.


Market Statistics

The organisers of IFE seemed apparently oblivious to the huge rise in vegan demand that has led to seemingly hyperbolic claims such as online retailer Ocado’s quote of “1,500% increase in sales of vegan products”.


IFE provided ‘Trend Trail’ leaflets quoting (by contrast) lukewarm stats such as “demand for healthy snacks is growing 3 times faster (8.1%) than traditional snacks by Penny Mackintosh at Graze and ‘The frozen ready meal category is up by 2.1%’ by a deluded Annabel Karmel still pushing beef as a healthy option to kids. The deliciously ubiquitous Ella Woodward fronted up the ‘Free From’ trend trail but devoid of any market statistics perhaps because as Google trends reveals the action is all vegan.


Considering widely available sales statistics from Sainsbury’s (demand for vegan cheese underestimated by 300%) and Zizzi (Vegan sales up 150% in January 2017) and Pret a Manger hugely underestimating vegan demand you would have thought the food industry would have started to catch up.



Meat Free Monday

The ‘Vegetarian Approved’ department of The Vegetarian Society chose Meat Free Monday / World Happiness Day / First day of Spring to launch their new vegan approved vegan symbol. Now manufacturing/catering customers of the vegetarian trademark can choose whether they display a vegetarian or a vegan accredited logo without having to make a separate application to The Vegan Society. It will be interesting to see The Vegetarian Society’s stance on vegan chocolate. It will be ironic if they don’t allow ‘may contain’ statements and Vegetarian Society approved chocolate end’s up more vegan than chocolate registered with The Vegan Society.



Missing in Action:  Vegan Cheese

2017 seemed to be the year of the healthy drink at IFE. Kombucha and Kefir drinks were represented in force. There were also delicious refined sugar-free vegan ice cream by VegfestUK regulars The Nude Spoon and an amazing Bulgarian fruit concoction by IceOTop Ltd. The Bulgarians are almost there with a probiotic-rich, omega 3 version ice cream versions of their fruit smoothies.


Another loyal supporter of VegfestUK Plamil Foods was at IFE to launched their new Vegan chocolate brand ‘So Free’ that will hopefully become the new Green and Blacks following Craig Sam’s baby being cast adrift to Kraft Foods / Mondelēz. Especially in Bristol.


There was a German company with a vegan yoghurt that is due to hit the shelves of German Aldi by the summer and perhaps if we are vociferous enough will find its way into UK Aldi stores.


Meanwhile, vegan cheese was very conspicuous by its absence. Maybe all the vegan cheese manufacturers are just so busy keeping up with demand or they didn’t have time to attend IFE. It was interesting that the cheese and dairy section appeared smaller than normal. On the map, the yellow cheese and dairy area seemed about half the size of the green health and wellbeing section. I failed to spot Good Carma Foods were there allegedly promoting their tubes of vegan Parmesan in the Welsh Pavilion and The Suma wholefood stand, wherever that was Either way, it’s a huge shame for chefs, distributors and retailers looking for the solutions to vegan catering that vegan cheese manufacturers can solve.



Plant Based Vegan Meats

The front of the Health and Wellbeing area was guarded by a huge stand occupied by the Dutch Company Vivera proudly proclaiming themselves as 100% Vegan. This company is already available in a number of supermarkets in Europe, I first saw them in Albert Heijn in Holland. Six of the fresh products are now for sale at Ocado, a veggie burger, pumpkin burger, mushroom burger, vegan pulled pork, vegan chicken pieces and veggie mincemeat.


VBites were at IFE launching their new veggie fingers that they have managed to get into schools to improve the vegan selection. VBites are planning to change some of their products to pea protein to tackle the issue of vegan’s over-reliance on soya. Not that there’s anything wrong with soya beans but in the spirit of too much of a good thing and variety is the spice of life. The pea-based BBQ vegan pulled pork was a great vegan sandwich contender. Even Vbites didn’t have any Vegan Cheese as they are currently reformulating them.


It was good to see vegan meat champions Sgaia at IFE too with their delicious range of meat-free alternatives. The Sgaia catering brand Butcherless stand won my best of show vote at VegfestUK Brighton with their high-tech vegan scotch egg. It blew my mind as I bit into it and the ‘yolk’ from the very realistic vegan poached egg leaked over my hands. It had everything about an expertly cooked poached egg apart from that distinctive fart taste and smell you get with the real thing. Let’s hope they can apply the same technological prowess in food science to create a meat that tastes as good as they currently do without such a reliance on wheat.



Snack Attack

There were so many snacks. The London Based Food Doctor had all scooted off home by the time I found their stand but they had a lovely arty display and have a new range of vegan nibbles that I’m now keen to try.


I tasted some amazing Sicilian nut butters that had superfood ingredients added to them such as maca, baobab, mulberry to make the most divine flavours – sadly I didn’t take a picture or get a leaflet and I have forgotten what they were called.


Pip and Nut were there with a big stand offering recipe tasters from their new nut butter cookbook following the enormous window display in Wholefoods Market Kensington, someone has deep pockets there.


Needle in a haystack

I’m sure there were other vegan innovations there that I didn’t find. IFE will have to be more fastidious at ensuring brands have appropriate multiple entries for companies so buyers can find them if they are going to try to be all things to all people. So Free (or even Plamil) was not listed under vegan foods or free from – I only found them because I could search by their brand name.


VegfestUK Trade at Olympia London on October 20th 2017 seems the obvious superior solution to any food industry professional looking for vegan solutions to fulfil growing consumer aspirations. (website for VegfestUK Trade 2017 to go live for bookings on March 29th 2017 at


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