Interview with Heerum Fleary, founder of Innoveat

Read our interview with Heerum Fleary, founder of Innoveat, and discover how she pivoted from being the only UK-based Food and Beverage exhibition geared specifically for buyers within the travel and leisure community, to becoming the UK’s largest virtual food and beverage marketplace.

What is Innoveat?

Today Innoveat encapsulates a variety of distinct yet intrinsically linked food and drink heartlands ranging from travel and hospitality (65%) to wholesale and ‘high-end’ retail (35%).

A former travel sector/airlines specialist buyer, I spent my formative years rushing around Europe to look at NEW potential food and drink innovation.

In 2016, it suddenly dawned on me, having hosted a number of mini-innovation days for the likes of Virgin and British Airways, that if I created the right ‘event experience,’ brands would track me down instead. In no time brands like Joe and Sephs, Tyrells, Darling Spuds, Olly’s Olivesflocked to Innoveat’s cause and the rest as they say is history.

When lockdown struck, I refused to become a victim, proactively broadening my appeal beyond travel, airlines and railway networks into wholesale and ‘high-end’ retail, whilst making the transition from the nation’s abandoned exhibitions to online.

I believe that the day of the traditional food and drink exhibition event has gone forever. Even when doors finally reopen, visitors will be obliged to wear masks, congregate in smaller numbers which makes sampling new products/coming to sensible decisions far from easy.

Isn’t there a real risk of over exposure?

I do understand the argument that endless zoom calls, conferences and seminars might dull consumer interest in attending yet another virtual experiences, but as with most things, if it’s done well there will always be opportunities to grow.

We go out of our way to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships which last the test of time – for example, Joe and Seph’s popcorn bar (Launched 2020) had its origins in engaging chats Adam and I enjoyed years earlier.

We also go the extra distance to ensure a truly immersive experience (insisting buyers have access to samples before online discussions commence).

Clearly online Zoom calls seem a bind now because our freedom has been so rudely restricted but in a normal world people will reassess ‘useful office time’ and recognise that more home-based time aids both productivity and work/life balance.

What food and drinks excite you the most?

There is so much cause for excitement because in the field of food and drink ingenuity, discernment and integrity, British food and drink has no equal.

I’m particularly excited by the explosion of high end, non-alcoholic drinks, increasingly enlightened RTEs (Ready to Eats) and RTDs (Ready to Drinks) Healthier living vending, letterbox subscriptions, superior quality vegan and truly indulgent snacking inspired by World Cuisine; ranges that go the extra distance to meet the needs of their bespoke loyalists.

Is there any field of food and drink where you don’t dabble?

Whilst I appreciate the energy and dynamism taking place in the UK farm shop and deli scene, especially with regards to supporting local producers, this is a mammoth, specialist minefield best left to others.

I’ve always believed that it’s prudent to be honest with oneself, fully understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses and playing to the former. 

What are the must-haves for a business with real longevity?

  • Understand your industry inside out, don’t play at it!
  • Foster long-term mutually beneficial friendships
  • Operate in an open and transparent manner at all times
  • Offer lots of free support, offer honest brand insights/perspectives, be available for brainstorming/chewing the cud chats, especially free up time for clients/potential clients you truly believe in, social media thumbs up….. 
  • Make the most of any situation and never be afraid to adapt as standing still isn’t a winning strategy.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

My 72 year old aunt is my rock! She received an MBE for being the first Asian woman probation officer in Nottingham and for all her charity work.

And your long term vision?

To become the instantly recognizable voice within my sector before eventually selling up and setting up my own homeless shelter whilst investing in other aspirational smaller businesses.