Alimentaria 2020: Where to Taste the Future of Food

Gina Acosta
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Alimentaria 2020: Where to Taste the Future of Food
The 2020 Alimentaria trade show aims to showcase the best global trends in food, foodservice and beverage across more than 1 million square feet of exhibition space at Gran Via de Fira Barcelona

With pine-laden hills sloping down to a turquoise coast, Barcelona, Spain, has long symbolized the Mediterranean lifestyle of sun, sand and sea. But the city is first and foremost a food town defined by innovative chefs, world-class grocery retailers and food halls ripe with the next big trend in the food retail world.

The Catalonian capital is blessed with access to a limitless bounty of food producers, food technologists and food scientists, so much so that one moment you could be slurping just-caught sea urchins from their shells, and the next moment debating the definition of the word “tomato” at a laboratory created by the world’s most famous chef (Ferran Adria). That's exactly where I found myself recently, while attending a press preview event for Alimentaria 2020, one of the largest food shows in the world, set to take place this April in Barcelona.

In this hyper-competitive food retailing environment, with shoppers ever more hungry for premium foods with global flavors, Alimentaria has become a global resource for grocers looking to stay ahead of shopper trends (and competitors). And there might be no better place to learn about what’s next in food retail trends than Barcelona, the food capital of a country with one of the top food scenes in the world.

“The aim of Alimentaria 2020 is to reflect the changing pattern of consumer needs, new trends and the paradigm shift happening in manufacturing, distribution and retail models,” said J. Antonio Valls, managing director of Alimentaria Exhibitions. “We are bringing together products that are no longer market niches and have become categories in themselves.”


Alimentaria 2020: Where to Taste the Future of Food
Fresh sea urchins served at La Marea Alta restaurant in Barcelona


We hear it all the time: Consumers today expect to be able to buy almost anything, anywhere, at any time — and at low prices to boot.

Millennials, now the largest U.S. demographic group, and Zoomers (Gen Z) have especially high expectations of their grocery stores, specifically. But really, it’s every segment of consumer driving disruption in food retail.

Most of the retail marketing dollars go to Millennials and Gen Z, but the often overlooked demographic of Baby Boomers is also focused on buying more premium and healthy foods, according to The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, N.Y. Meanwhile, consumers across all age groups are cooking less. According to the Arlington, Va.-based Food Industry Association, the $13 billion foodservice category is growing annually at 8.2% and should be considered a “primary strategy for food retailers to differentiate and appeal to convenience-seeking consumers.”

And all of these generations are embracing private label.

Private label products grew faster than national brand products by a factor of four in 2018, according to a report from New York-based Coresight Research. About 20% of sales growth in private brands comes from products that are branded premium, trendy or organic, according to Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon, which notes that about 41% of consumers would like to see more better-for-you products and 44% want more unique attributes.

All of this means food retailers must be more nimble than ever before in adjusting their business models to adapt to these consumer trends. To hold their own against aggressive competitors, grocers might look to build a distinctive offering that emphasizes one of the most important value propositions that have resonated with today’s demanding consumer: a curated and immersive food retail experience. The growth of trade shows such as Alimentaria reflects the growth of food retail as curation, in which retailers are racing to meet the needs of shoppers increasingly hungry to discover new foods in an experiential retail format.


Alimentaria 2020: Where to Taste the Future of Food
J. Antonio Valls, managing director of Alimentaria Exhibitions, speaks at a press conference for Alimentaria in December 2019


The 2020 Alimentaria trade show aims to showcase the best global trends in food, foodservice and beverage across more than 1 million square feet of exhibition space at Gran Via de Fira Barcelona. Last year’s show attracted 4,500 exhibiting companies, 1,000 of which came from 70 countries; the show also attracted more than 150,000 visitors from 156 countries.

“This year, we are honored to present two new spaces: Alimentaria Trends and The Alimentaria Hub,” Valls said. “Whereas the first area will show the latest trends in production and consumption, and will [cover] a surface of [nearly 50,000 square feet] and around 400 exhibitors, The Alimentaria Hub is dedicated to innovation, knowledge and entrepreneurship, where visitors will also be able to access lectures, fast talks and presentations around innovation in the food and beverage industry.”

In addition to showing off the latest trends in all of the major food retail categories such as meat, dairy and snacks, this year the show will also focus on trending categories such as gourmet (or premium) foods, organics, Halal foods and functional foods. The event will also feature an Experience Live Gastronomy pavilion offering workshops, presentations and cooking shows with Michelin-starred chefs.

“The U.S. food and drink industry relies on Alimentaria as a showcase to increase its positioning in Spain and its areas of influence, especially the rest of Europe,” Valls said. “The United States occupies a leading position in terms of the number of visitors to the trade show, while it also increases its representation of exhibiting companies at each edition.”

U.S. retailers are always on the hunt for what's next in terms of product and flavor trends, and they often look to Europe or Asia for inspiration. To illustrate the value proposition of creating an inspiring and exciting shopping experience that helps customers discover many of these new and trending products, Alimentaria took me and a few other journalists on a tour of Barcelona’s most innovative food retail destinations.

Alimentaria 2020: Where to Taste the Future of Food
Barcelona's Santa Caterina Market was remodeled in 2005 to include a mosaic roof


I’m trying not to move too fast as I enter Santa Caterina Market, taking in all of the sights and smells of one of the world’s original food halls, established in the El Born neighborhood of Barcelona in 1845. The market was remodeled in 2005 to include a mosaic roof covered in hundreds of thousands of tiles.

But none of the locals discussing their grocery lists or tourists Instagramming colorful piles of charcuterie are there for the architecture, it seems. A young woman is ordering a pincho moruno (spicy meat skewer) for a couple of bucks at Bar Joan. At La Torna, workers are performing culinary choreography in a small space: slicing thin sheets of tuna to layer on plates with fresh figs.

For food retailers looking to create experiential features in-store, Santa Caterina Market offers a template for how to convey authenticity and freshness in a show-stopping retail setting.

Alimentaria 2020: Where to Taste the Future of Food
Pasteleria Escriba sells pastries, cakes and chocolates, and boasts a very Instagrammable cafe


At this historic central Barcelona pastry shop, the possibilities in the bakery category are limited only by one’s imagination (and judging from their pastry case full of Netflix-themed sweets, how many shows and movies the U.S. streaming giant premieres). Fourth-generation master pastry chef Christian Escriba creates experiential desserts such as life-size animals made of chocolate, cakes baked into the shape of a giant piano, and mugs of hot chocolate as thick as pudding for customers to enjoy in the cafe. Young children with cellphones snap their selfies next to a brightly lit sign that reads (in English!): “Save the earth. It’s the only planet with chocolate.”

Sweets and bakery products are easy to find in dessert-obsessed Barcelona, but what the Escriba family does is offer flavors and experiences that facilitate human connections while in the store. In the United States, retailers who create this kind of warm and inspiring environment will likely keep shoppers coming back for more.

Alimentaria 2020: Where to Taste the Future of Food
Produce merchandising is elevated to an art form at La Boqueria Market in Barcelona


From my perch at the bar of Kiosko Universal, it looks like the entire population of Spain is shopping and eating at this market, one of the most famous food halls in the world. La Boqueria attracts more than 50,000 visitors a day to its stands and stalls staffed by multigenerational families and filled with every type of fresh food one can think of. This is, after all, the market that CNN ranked “the best food market in the world.”

Shoppers ogle fruits and vegetables and hand them over to workers, who will grill mushroom skewers and roast bell peppers on demand. La Boqueria is all about the fundamentals, elevating fresh ingredients and treating them like culinary celebrities.

But the market is also about creating an immersive retail experience to promote new products, drive sales and increase shopper engagement. A male tourist grabs a juicy red tomato and squeezes it against a slice of fresh bread, spreading the fruit’s juice and seeds. A woman in the stall next door pours some local olive oil into a small cup. She tastes it, as she tries to pair it with a glass of wine -- local, of course -- and a bit of cheese.

So many shoppers, whether in Europe or the United States, are looking for cooking help or inspiration when they shop for food. This is the kind of hands-on sampling and creativity that's key to driving retail sales growth.



Alimentaria 2020: Where to Taste the Future of Food
Specialty and exotic fruits are a big draw for consumers in Europe, and increasingly the United States


Many food retailers in the United States are positioning themselves to offer these kinds of premium food experiences that can't be replicated in other stores or online. With curation and inspiration at the core of more retail strategies in 2020 and beyond, Alimentaria in Barcelona is a must-attend trade show for retailers who believe that enhancing the shopping experience with a curated assortment and experiential features is key to winning shoppers and driving business growth in the next decade.

Alimentaria will take place April 20-23 in Barcelona.

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