There is a fine line between brilliant innovation and the utterly bizarre. This was evident from the Hotelympia 2008 exhibition, which showcased a vast range of products, including aluminium teabags and juice made from flowers.

== Snacks ==

In the snacking category, hand-cooked crisps with a high mark-up price are all the rage. At the end of last year, research company Mintel predicted this trend would take off in 2008. Demand for hand-cooked crisps in particular has grown about 20-30% in recent years. According to Mintel, sales of standard or regular crisps dropped by 3% between 2004 and 2006, while sales of premium brands increased by 4% over the same period.

"People are looking for quality products that are perceived to be healthier than the standard varieties. They want exciting flavours and a great-tasting product," said Simon Herring of Pipers Crisps. "Bakers can benefit from added-value sales, as consumers view crisps as indulgent treats and are buying more expensive ranges."

Among a wealth of handmade premium snacks that were on display, Pipers Crisps are hand-cooked and come in a range of flavours, including Biggleswade sweet chilli, and Somerset cider vinegar and Anglesey sea salt. Other crisp companies at the show included The Real Crisp Company, Salty Dog, and Yorkshire Crisps. Yorkshire Crisps come in a range of flavours, including tomato, basil & mozzarella, parsnip with black pepper and Cheddar & caramelised onion chutney.

Healthy snacking options are also on the rise, such as fruit and cereal bars. An unusual snacking alternative making its debut in the UK is Wheat Nuts. The nut-free snack has no trans fats and is claimed to be a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E.

== Soft Drinks ==

Health, once again, was high on the agenda in the soft drinks category, with some companies pushing innovation to its limits.

The Hibiscus Drinks Company launched what it called "the UK’s first superflower drink". Hib! is made from the calyx of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower bush and pure spring water. It has no artificial additives, colourings or flavourings. Anita Doran, director of the Hibiscus Drinks Company, said: "Hib! contains a source of anthocyanin antioxidants, which help to mop up harmful free radicals in the body and have been linked to a reduction in blood pressure and the slowing of cancers."

It comes in two flavours including Hibiscus and Grape and Hibiscus and Peppermint. Other drinks companies at the show included Juice 4 U with its new smoothie dispensing machine and Projuice, which provides everything for setting up and running a juice and smoothie operation. The firm was also promoting its own Juice Academy.

== Tea ==

As a nation of tea drinkers, offerings at the show were varied. Stick Tea, for example, is a novel alternative to teabags. The point of using stick tea is to alleviate the need to stir with a spoon. It is a disposable infuser made with a thin aluminium sheet. According to the company, just put the stick into an empty glass, pour in hot water and stir the stick until the tea is the desired strength.

Award-winning Newby Tea UK was also promoting its range of luxury teas, including Imperial Jasmine, Royal Black Dragon, Premier Assam and organic teas.

Typhoo, one of the household names at the show, launched the On the Go Cup. This features a teabag inside a cup that is ready to go. "As consumer lifestyles become busier and lunch breaks get shorter, Typhoo On the Go Cup is a way for bakers and outlets to drive tea sales, particularly at point of purchase, where 75% of all purchasing decisions are made," said Typhoo’s Sue Jones-Smithson.

== Coffee and machinery ==

The Italian Beverage Company was showcasing a range of products, including Fairtrade hot chocolate, flavoured syrups, sauces, toppings from marshmallows to toffee crunch, speciality teas, wafers and beverage machines.

Café Bar, which supplies a range of bakery chains including Lyndale foods and Firkins, was also showcasing its range of Espresso machines. The latest new addition is the CMA-Planet espresso unit. The CMA-Planet system is manufactured in Italy and is available in single, double, triple or quad brew versions and the operator can choose between automatic and semi-automatic modes.

Other companies with espresso machines on show included Macro, First Choice Coffee, Coburg coffee company, Black & White, WMF, Scotsman Beverage Systems, Magrini, Brasilia coffee machines and many more.

== Cakes and confectionery ==

No cup of coffee is complete without a slice of cake. Chasing a share of the premium dessert market, The Handmade Cake Company launched its Blueberry and Lemon Drizzle Cake.

Barry Callebaut, supplier of chocolate to the baking industry, also promoted its range of hard and soft chocolate coatings, as well as its single-origin chocolates with 70% cocoa from Ecuador, Madagascar, São Thomé, Java, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.

Sandwiches, wraps and speciality breads

Taking place alongside the exhibition, The British Sandwich Association held the British Sandwich Designer of the Year Competition.

It also gave presentations, ranging from healthy options to adding value to your sandwich, delivered by development chef Howard Rowell from Cherry Valley.

According to Cherry Valley, there are over two billion sandwiches sold out-of-home each year and a third of people want to see duck used in sandwiches and wraps. The company showcased its range of sliced and shredded cooked duck meats and handed out sandwich recipe ideas.

Nearby was Speciality Breads, an artisan wholesale company with a range of sandwich carriers, including paninis, brioches and a fruited rustic loaf.

"The Speciality Breads’ product range has evolved to keep up with changes in consumer expectations," said Peter Millen, sales and marketing director. "These have been fuelled by foreign travel, the ’celebrity chef’ and a plethora of TV channels devoted to food." n