I snapped David Morgan of Real Organic as he received feedback  from trade journalists on the quality of his range of cooking sauces. Mr Morgan joined around 50 other small suppliers in the Market that was bolted on to the front of wholesaler Palmer and Harvey’s Pro-retail show in Telford last month.

In a fantastic book introducing the small suppliers, the wholesaler says: “By chatting to these [suppliers] we hope you’ll gain new insights into what could be the next big thing in retail: small.”

Whether or not this was the case, by chatting to these small businesspeople, independent retailers will  have had an opportunity to recharge their entrepreneurial batteries. If supermarkets put fruit and vegetables inside the front door to slow shoppers down and get them picking products up – stimulating the buying process – then the market must have worked similarly for retailers on the hunt for new ideas to use in their shops. It certainly worked for me.

Steve Bailey, a former chef, was showcasing his Jackson bars (poorly photographed above), which are healthier snacks developed for his children. Catching my eye on my first visit to the hall, Steve asked me to taste a sample. The bars, of course, tasted amazing. But don’t all products? I challenged. He smiled and told me about  the benefits of his products. How could you refuse to give his snacks a try out?

Possibly by walking around the corner, where you would bump into Rob Bookham in his trademark hat and cheesemakers garb. His Sussex Charmer is a cross between Cheddar and Parmesan. The fantastic thing about this market is that there is so much choice.

The lady in the pink t-shirt is Jo Beach, who was showing her Tasty Little Numbers range, subtitled Real food, perfectly portioned. What is the gimmick? If you want to buy a 100 calorie chocolate bar, that is what she makes. If you want to buy a 200 calorie snack pot, that is what it says on the pot. Here, she is telling P&H marketing director Richard Hayhoe and trade press representatives about the success of the show, with listings promised by a who’s who of travel point operators.

There was a smattering of upmarket chocolate makers, one being Diana David, whose Diana’s Chocolates range includes the tag line, Lovingly Hand Made in Hornsey. Hornsey is much loved but nondescript inner London suburb that you would associate with artisan products. Diana makes her own chocolates from scratch and might be worth contacting if you sell upmarket chocolates and want something different.

Ascot-based Shemin MacGregor Shemin’s Curry Paste is already stocked by a number of leading independent retailers, including Paul Fisher and Budgens Ascot. She produces recipe cards to help promote sales.

Collectable cards were part of the packaging support at Bear Nibbles, a company set up by Giles Brook and partners. Giles was part of the team that set up Innocent Smoothies and it shows in the clever marketing and healthy credentials of his snacks. Stocked already in the major multiples and Caffe Nero, for example, his products are not so much about adding something new as building your authority if you wish to sell healthier alternatives to the main snacking brands. Bear has launched Urban Fruit and collectable cards, Giles says, are much sought after by a certain type of adult.

Also from an Innocent background, Mike Stevens \of Peppersmith was showing his natural gum and mint products. At a personal level, I do not like the packaging and don’t buy into the healthier gum narrative that Mike is passionate about. But when he showed off the little packet of papers inserted inside the gum box so that chewers could responsibly dispose of their sustainably sourced chicle gum after chewing, I started to think that there may be a market for a £1.50 retail selling price 10 piece product. If you have the customers, then this is a product you may want to try.

Two other products from this part of the show also caught my attention. Crispin Buck was present with his Kabuto noodles, an up-market version of Pot Noodles. Since the Food and Drink Expo, he has introduced new packaging that means the retail selling price is now lower (from £2.95 to £2.50). This is a good product and if you sell food to go (or have a coffee machine) could be worth considering. Also, the alibi pretox drink seems to be an interesting variation on the now ubiquitous energy drink.

Before leaving the front of the show, Richard Hayhoe also pointed out the new look Supershop concept store that was on display. P&H says it has developed a special solution for the smaller shop that is left behind by other symbol groups. There were two things on display that caught my eye.

First was the energy saving doors from Bond Display Cabinets. They are nearly invisible and make the products look fantastic as demonstrated here. Phil Proudman of the Bond Group says these doors are being installed in many locations by one of the major beverage brands. In the fresh and chilled display area, I met a number of retailers who were inspired by these.

The second was this six shelf food to go display unit from Fresh Express, which can be half hot and half ambient as displayed. It looked great.

However, at a simple level, the Supershop package is about great consumer facing offers and the point of sale on display looks good. Within the main show, P&H included a section on the Future of Convenience and a strong display of fresh and chilled products. The audience recognition advertising unit and the smart phone applications were the two future products that really stood out but they don’t need your immediate attention. Thinking about fresh and chilled probably does.

I bumped into Philip Shelley in the fresh and chilled section and he is thinking of making the jump into convenience from news. John Parkinson, who has already made the switch, was impressed by the quality of the displays and the show generally. Hapi Cheema, who was visiting Pro-retail for the first time, has just coverted his supermarket to the Mace format.

This meal deal pack looked good, as did a range from Urban Eats. However, P&H still has some way to go to provide an offering that will match the major multiples. Rumblers Pots were on display and this Irish made breakfast solution might be an option.

In snacks, Hogbites are a great tasting product from the Jerky Group. Available in clip strips, if you sell alcohol then this is well worth a try. While the £1.49 RSP is high for a 45g portion (to my mind) I am sure this is a product that will find an audience. The only thing to watch out for is the price point that the multiples might choose to sell it at. Another snack option to consider is the new popcorn flavour from Tyrrells. I also met the team from Cofresh, who claim to be the number one Indian snacks company. Like everyone else in this sector, they are facing increased commodity costs and the pack sizes are getting smaller.

Finally, as Andy Singh said he was on the look out for one, here is a hot dog machine. Billy Eatenton, the sales manager for Rollover, said the unit was not too hot. As I took my hand sharply back, he smiled and remembered that he was a chef by background. Asbestos-hands, he said. Even so, for some retailers this may be a good solution.

In this review I have largely passed by the major suppliers that you know well and who displayed at Pro-retail. They had some great insight also but insight that you will be aware of from the trade press. As I walked around the show I met a great many retailers who were excited about the future of their trade. An £8.6 billion growth opportunity, as P&H says.

To  get your share you need to visit trade shows hungry for ideas and not for free stock. It is the ideas that you will turn into sustainable profit. P&H is a supertanker in many ways but displayed a great degree of nimbleness in this year’s show. Independent retailers need the support of big suppliers and they also need the new ideas that will keep their shoppers engaged.