Slow Food show hits growing GI trend

By Chris Mercer in Montpellier

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cheese

Organisers say the movement has doubled in two years as the
identity, individuality and heritage of food takes on new
importance among the growing number of consumers scouring the globe
for authentic tasty sensations.

It was somehow ominously appropriate that, in the week building up to the Slow Food exhibition in southern France, the European Court of Justice handed sole rights for Feta cheese production back to Greece.

The EU has listed 41 products it would like to receive global 'protected origin' status at the up-coming World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong.

The Feta ruling only served to highlight the potential authentic, bona fide food and drink now has in what market research groups believe is a growing move against processed products.

The international Slow Food movement, which began in Italy in 1986, encapsulates this trend in the extreme, standing for the celebration of difference and the regional and cultural identity of quality food and wine.

The Slow Food show, Aux Origins du Gout​, this weekend allowed more than 80 small producers, including producers of cheese, wine, chocolate and those with novel foods such as anchovy oil known only on Italy's Amalfi Coast, direct access to consumers.

Isidoro Riboldi, aged 74, is one of only a handful of Italians who know how to make Raspadura cheese, from the area south of Milan.

"Children in our region know this cheese from the age of two,"​ he said, using a long slicer to scrape off thin wisps of the large round cheese, sometimes rolling it into "cigars"​ and handing them to passing kids; a Slow Food version of a cheese straw.

There are partly so few Raspadura producers in Italy because the technique for cutting the cheese is so specialised. Riboldi has been retired since 2000 after 52 years in the business, but he said he enjoyed the opportunity to talk to new people about the product.

And, while Riboldi may pose little threat to the likes of dairy giants Arla Foods and Danone, his presence and popularity is a warning shot across their bows.

Jean Lhéritier, president of Slow Food France, said the idea of Slow Food was to bring something different to the market. It is an idea that seems to be catching on.

Lhéritier said the event in France had doubled in size since it was first held two years ago, attracting between six and eight thousand consumers from all over the country in the last three days.

He said the idea had great potential to expand over the next decade and that Slow Food groups had already begun working in many countries, including the UK, US, Japan and Germany. The movement now has around 83,000 members worldwide.

"It is the opposite to industrial products,"​ said André Labourde, visiting the Montpellier exhibition. "A lot of people in France are becoming really aware of quality products, and they want to buy them and support them."

A number of market research firms have pointed to a growing adventurousness among western consumers in particular. A recent Mintel​ report said that 42 per cent of Britons who went out to eat were "willing and even wanting to try new dishes and different foods"​.

Meanwhile, many large food firms now place the development of new flavour combinations at the top of their research and development lists.

Some of the producers at the Montpellier show have no aspirations to become larger. One exhibitor at a stall selling five-year-old cheese from Bordeaux, as seen on the​ homepage, said the family-run firm was happy sticking to markets and shows.

The problem for the world's larger producers may come not from direct competition, but from the EU's love affair with protected designations of origin and the possibility that speciality products could begin eating into premium segments.

A special Brazilian jam called Umbú at the Montpellier show was recently picked up by fair trade firm Alter Eco and is now set to be launched in French supermarket chain Leclerc.

And of course, the internet, as a medium for direct selling and vital publicity, has also made it more possible than ever for consumers to find such products.

"At Slow Food, the consumers are co-producers,"​ said Lhéritier.

"It is important to talk about the culture and the 'terroir': the people, the climate and the earth that have made the product. It is about responsible and quality production, but it is also about giving people pleasure through what they eat."

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