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Refresh takes on Northern Restaurant and Bar 2024

A colleague asked me on a Monday morning: “Could you cover for me and attend an event I was due to check out this week?”.

Without raising my head from my notepad, I replied: “Sure, what’s the event?”.

“The Northern Restaurant and Bar 2024 at Manchester Convention Centre. I would normally go myself, but…”

Before she could finish, it was a resounding yes. The chance to see one of the north’s biggest convention centres packed to the brim with great people, great food and great drink? She didn’t need to ask me twice. I’d say that I’d bite her hand off, but I was saving my appetite.

But the truth is, these events offer so much more than delicious free samples. Getting face-to-face with peers, colleagues and potential partners is invaluable. Seeing first-hand the latest food and drink deals is the best way to learn and forge new connections. As an agency, we emphasise personal relationships and pride ourselves in getting clients in front of the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

And oh wow, was it worth it! At Refresh we’re lucky enough to have a strong pedigree in the food and drink sector. Not least through our work with Brand of Brothers – the licence organisation responsible for giants such as Halo Top and Remeo ice cream. We’ve already supported the recent launch of two new flavours and one new partnership and have plenty more exciting news to come.

Approaching the venue, which was once a train station, you still pick up on the buzz of what once was. A feeling that things are happening; ideas and creation buzzing; goods being exchanged and people being engaged.

As well as the sights, the sounds were bouncing out of the venue. The entrance was made even more hospitable by the site of African drummers, positioned on the edge of the main entrance hinting to attendees of the energy within. All I had to figure out now was where do I go first.

Let’s try and approach this logically, I reminded myself. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed.

“Free sample, sir?”

“Yes, please.”

“Would you like to test our new product?”

“I’d love to.”

“Curious about the secret ingredient for success in the food and drink industry?”


First up, though, was a local bakery, based just south of Manchester, that now caters across the entire country. The mini focaccia rolls were exactly what I needed. Not only were they delicious in their own right, but the extra carbs would come in handy considering how many free samples of alcohol were being thrown around!

A sweet tooth might be my nemesis, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore free ice cream. A vendor was giving out scoops of their luxury product, offering vanilla pod and strawberry to the traditionalists and raspberry pavlova and cookies and cream to the innovators. Vegan options were also available for whatever your taste.

Now it had officially passed midday, it was time to try something a bit more adventurous. There were some big industry hitters showcasing their classics. Samples from Budweiser, Tiny Rebel and Lucky Saint – a leader in non-alcoholic beer – were all swept up graciously by me. The Camden Brewery stout looked like an exciting addition to their collection, too.

But what really caught my eye was, and I’m quoting the vendor here: “The best, most famous rum in India. People travel for miles for it!”

A swig of the Old Monk Rum proved him right. While I can’t claim to have tried every rum in India, it was certainly the best one I tried that day. Now I had a taste for it, I walked (not stumbled!) over to the Cazcabel Tequila stand. You can tell alcohol was in the air, because I agreed to have my video taken when sampling their salted caramel and coconut tequilas. If you can’t make it out, I was saying:

“That’s really nice!”

And it was.

It wasn’t just those offering traditional food and drink samples, either. Ready-to-go frozen cocktails, sweet, flavoursome syrups, and the latest in industry tech were all being showcased in the huge hall.

Finally, I needed something to sharpen my mind for the walk back to the office. There was no better alternative to Manchester-based ‘No Apologies’ cold brew coffee. Packaged in a smooth, black matte finish wine bottle, it certainly looks the part. And packs a punch, too. Bold, dark, a little sweet. The perfect antidote to get me back on the straight and narrow.

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