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Not many people outside the food and beverage sector know about ANUGA, which turned 100 this year. Whilst it is difficult to imagine it squeezed between two world wars, economic depressions, totalitarianism, a divided Germany and Europe, it survived all of the above and is now the largest and most important trade fair worldwide, hailing from Cologne, Germany.

The 2019 edition welcomed a over 170,000 trade visitors from 201 countries and around 7,500 exhibitors from 106 countries; 90% of exhibitors and 75% of visitors were from outside Germany, which upholds the fact that it has advanced to a leading trade fairs hosting country worldwide, endorsing trends and  innovation.

Views about the rôle of ANUGA differ. People from other continents see it as the major platform for their goods, stakeholders link it to sustainability challenges or praise the fact that it is about innovation and taste, retailers enjoy the enormous power they wield by appearing often incognito or in very exclusive meetings.

At the same time, it is also a testimony that times are-a-changing. If in the past the main efforts were made to promote consumption in Germany and then progressively across Western Europe, now the axes have shifted.

Whereas hundreds of millions living in Asia, America and Africa are becoming more affluent and diverse (in their tastes?) and  are happy to discover our treasured Geographical Indications and other unique European specialties, confirming the European Union´s leading food exporter role in terms of value- Euro 138 billion of exports as against 117 billion of imports* –  we are increasingly seeking meaning in what we eat, drink and (soon) wear.
(*source: Monitoring Agri-Trade MAP 2018, European Commission)

My modest opinion is that it shows how saturated European markets are: producers and consumers now often resort to ideology.

As far as  “Western” consumption trends are concerned, we have gone way beyond food and drink as a daily primary necessity, we have often integrated ethnic influences in our lifestyles- and are now steering our consumption according to specific values or needs: environmental and health-conscious, climate neutral, against exploitation of human resources, protection of animals and their welfare: hence the choose fair trade mantra, veganism/vegetarianism, organic, less food waste, age-defying, health-boosting etc.

Poised against the backdrop of major challenges the food sector faces – environmental and climate-related changes affecting agriculture coupled with huge population growth – the kaleidoscopic structure of ANUGA shows many reactions, solutions and ideas: from high-tech innovation, unusual forms of protein such as insect or algae, biotechnologies and new forms of GMOs, but also new, plastic-free packaging, fair(er) supply chains, supporting seasonal and local produce, convenience foods for singles, etc. Sustainability is the big buzz word now, which is being lavishly applied in the food and beverage sector and seems a reassuring attribute for consumers.

ANUGA sketches a diminishing rôle for Europe and the growing importance of other continents, not only as importers but as exporters. There is at least one elephant in the fair ground, and that is trade agreements. How to strike the balance between protecting European agri-foods – which can boast the highest quality and safety levels in the world – and introducing new products from emerging economies, which would support development but at the same time provide a cheaper range of products directly competing with their European counterparts, e.g. oranges from Morocco, apples from South Africa, wines from Chile, soy products from China, etc. The list is long and we only need to analyse the EUR 117 billion in imports. The latest protests of European farmers regarding the Mercosur Trade Agreement are a case in point.

Let us picture the ANUGA 50 years from now: what shall we eat and drink? And where will it be produced? Will China have converted its whole agri-food system to organic and have it supported by renewables? Will Europe have invested in technologies and exported its know-how so that, say, Champagne is produced in Chile? Will the world food market have become a giant single market, with goods freely flowing everywhere thanks to FTAs? The challenges and opportunities of changing tastes, food innovation and shifting trade patterns will keep us busy over the coming years.

In the meantime, here is a glimpse of what could happen in the near future: a vegan, healthy, coolly packaged ready-made beans preparation from India targeting European markets – already present in Sweden and expanding: Salad Monk, produced by Ycook, India, under the Ta-daa range. You may have seen  it here first!

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