How can you produce less food waste, drive your business via social media or help the UK win the war on obesity? All these topics and much more will be explored at the Brainfood Factory – the venue for live masterclasses, panel debates and interviews at this year’s Food & Drink Expo taking place at the NEC on 24-26 March. The impressive line-up of experts and celebrity foodies includes food and drink critic, journalist and broadcaster Nigel Barden hosting a masterclass with the Fabulous Baker Brothers on where passion for good food can take you. On a similar note Jim Cregan, founder and CEO of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee; Giles Brook, CEO Europe of Vita Coco; and Greg Dove, consumer category and insight director for snack brand Ginsters, will be amongst the panellists offering their insight and advice on how to build a brand from personal passion to gaining a nationwide listing and consumer following. In another session, 2011 Celebrity Masterchef winner Phil Vickery will talk to William Sitwell, editorial director at Waitrose Kitchen magazine about his passion for British food and culture and what this means for food producers and brands in the future.

Perhaps the hottest topic on the food industry’s agenda is obesity… but who’s responsible for helping the nation get back to a healthy weight? This live panel debate will explore the challenges of obesity, child malnutrition and an ageing population. Chaired by former Waitrose MD and executive director of M&S Steven Esom, the panel will also include nutrition consultant Janice Harland; Tam Fry, honorary chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesman for the National Obesity Forum; Nigel Nugent, executive chef at Morrisons; Melanie Leech, director general for the Food and Drink Federation; Chris Hook, director of Warburtons Free From business; and finally Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer.

Whether you run a niche retail brand or a high-street café, the importance of multi-media channels is something you can’t escape. William Sitwell will host a live panel discussion on everything from the role of food apps, to the importance of food TV, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube ‘watch me cook’ videos.  Posing questions such as: “Can brands really survive without a strong social and digital presence” and “Do food and drink brands still need TV?”, he’ll be joined in the discussion by Sarah Weller, MD of Mubaloo, the leading enterprise and consumer mobile app development company, plus Marni Millard, CEO of management consultancy the Nichols Group

Food waste is another issue rarely off the industry agenda. In 2012 campaigner Tristram Stuart discussed why food waste is a problem that must be solved. Now, two years on, he will look at what has happened and what yet needs to be done.

For foodservice visitors there are several not-to-be-missed sessions. The UK Foodservice Market – Key Consumer Insights and Trends will draw from Allegra Foodservice’s Eating Out Panel, which tracks consumer behaviour. It will also include research from reports such as Project Restaurant, Eating Out in the UK, and How Britain Eats. Allegra Foodservice details the size and growth of the UK foodservice market, identifying the dynamics of each sector, which will set the scene for this presentation. Analysis of key trends from an operator perspective, along with in-depth consumer insights, will deliver a holistic view of the market.

Meanwhile, “How to win, in growing foodservice and direct to consumer channels?” is the title of panel sessions discussing how brands and businesses might make the most of exciting new channels, and what will happen to traditional routes to market.

If you’ve ever wondered why some products are protected by European law then the Pairing Masterclass, with leading author and food and drink pairing expert Fiona Beckett, is for you. The free tasting seminar will focus on five European products that have the heritage and quality levels required to gain Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status: Bourgogne Wines, Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, Douro Wines, Parma Ham and Port.  Here you’ll learn to recognise the attributes that make these products some of the finest in Europe and acquire the knowledge to inform consumers about the PDO hallmark of quality, plus Fiona will pass on her tips for delicious food and wine pairings.

Another unmissable masterclass will come courtesy of Jason Danciger, food and beverage director of Terra Firma – The Garden Centre Group. Head of more than 100 cafes and restaurants with ambitious plans, he’ll be walking visitors through the revolution happening in eating out and how businesses can cash in – both retail and foodservice.

Food & Drink Expo, incorporating Farm Shop & Deli Show, is co-located with National Convenience Show and Foodex. It is a trade event and strictly no under-16s, including babes in arms, will be permitted entry to the show.