The SIAL d'Or awards are the Golden Globes of the consumer packaged goods industry.
In late May, trade journalists from 27 countries gathered in Paris to pick the best new products released in 2003 in 12 categories, and the best new product from the participating country. The judging criteria are based on commercial success, innovation, and how successfully the product satisfies a market need. Products are scored using a point system that is heavily weighted on commercial success. The highest-scoring product wins the category or country award. The overall SIAL d'Or winner is then chosen from the category winners. While the winner has already been picked, it is kept secret until the official announcement is made during the SIAL 2004 trade show, Oct. 17 to 21. Could there be any better assignment than flying to Paris in the springtime as a first-time juror in this international competition, which is held biannually and is now in its 10th year? Consider this: The competition was grueling. Jurists took it very seriously. Over 300 products were evaluated over two days. The days were long. Each jury member was allotted three minutes to make a presentation. Many went well over, adding extraneous information like the history of wine-making in Turkey or personal experiences like growing up in the mountains of Norway. Jurors were sequestered 40 miles outside of Paris at Disneyland. Yet the evening in Paris at a famous French restaurant on the Champs Elysees made up for the venue outside the city.
Some personal observations about the competition: SIAL d'Or is considered a prestigious event in Europe, but is not well-recognized in the United States. The competition adds an element of excitement to the SIAL trade event and appears to be a good way to recognize new products. Given the right publicity, a SIAL D'Or award could help expand a new product's distribution.
However, the competition criteria are too general and arbitrary to really choose the world's top product. Commercial success of the products do not conform to any precise definition. Measurements ranged from all commodity volume, often quoted by the United States, to tonnage, distribution to X number of supermarket chains, and general statements that the product was a hot seller. Some products were interesting because of their regionality, such as chocolate milk slices for sandwiches from Israel, olive oil cookies from Greece, and low-fat blood sausage from Spain. No category winner appeared to be truly new.
Satisfying a market need is perhaps the most interesting factor because so many of the countries have deeply rooted regional tastes. What is considered commercially successful in one country would not necessarily be so in another. Also, a new product for some countries is certainly not new for others. Examples of familiar products presented included: lemon-flavored Pepsi Twist presented by Portugal and Italy, and Wrigley's breath strips presented by the United Kingdom, Japan, Austria and Germany.
In reality, there can be no true global award winner. However, the time, investment and effort spent by SIAL brings recognition to smaller manufacturers and producers, and to the multinationals. While SIAL can tighten up its judging regulations, the competition is good for smaller countries trying to add variety to their food offering. Now, the envelope please.