PARIS -- More than 132,000 attendees on the lookout for innovations in food and beverage products, packaging and marketing gathered here last week for SIAL 2002. This edition of the biannual trade show hosted 5,200-plus exhibitors from 94 countries Oct. 20 to 24.
SIAL, which stands for Salon International de L'Alimentation, has proven attractive to the food-distribution industry. SIAL's organizers, Paris-based Exposium, projected that approximately 50,000 of the show's attendees would be from the French, European and international distribution sector, including wholesale and import/export companies. SIAL also attracts 15,000 catering industry professionals, with food manufacturers making up 44% of the attendee total.
U.S.-based attendees, including global retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores and Costco Wholesale, were impressed by the breadth of product offerings on display.
Gary Crow, divisional merchandise manager of global sourcing, food division, for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores, noted that he and his team came to SIAL looking for new items and innovations in product design. "We saw a canned coffee product where you press a button on the can and it turns hot, as well as iced tea that turns cold when it's shaken," said Crow. New types of packaging for shelf-stable tuna and crabmeat also caught Crow's eye.
"SIAL is phenomenal," said Steve Pimentel, assistant general merchandise manager for fresh foods/corporate foods, Costco Wholesale, Issaquah, Wash. "The size and scope of the show is almost too big -- you have to focus, even with four days to see it all. But it's a great opportunity to see the leaders in their categories and the senior managers at these companies."
Pimentel's team was on the lookout for cheeses and deli meats. One of the innovations he spotted was a slide-out tray package for Roquefort cheese, with a soaker sponge built in that consumers could use to dry their hands. "This is new in Europe, but we've seen it in stores here as well as at this show," he said.
For U.S.-based exhibitors, SIAL provides an opportunity to build or expand their international presence. "SIAL is a good gathering point for all the European markets," said Mark Bagley, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sun-Maid Growers of California, Pleasanton, Calif.
Other U.S. exhibitors also said they see considerable opportunities in the international marketplace.
The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, New York, housed 50 companies within its area of the U.S. pavilion.
"One reason we're here at SIAL is that international buyers think of U.S. foods as commodities," said Ron Tanner, vice president for communications and education at NASFT.
"We can show that there are good-quality, handmade specialty foods in the U.S., as Italy and France have done with products from their countries."
He added that there has been increasing interest in U.S. foods internationally, especially with regional cuisines and flavors such as Cajun, Southwest, salsa and barbecue.