MONTREAL -- In six weeks, North American retailers seeking to satisfy the demand for ethnic and specialty cuisine will find a cornucopia of international foods in all categories available at their doorstep to peruse when SIAL Montreal launches its third edition.
Held every other year, it is projected this year's edition of SIAL Montreal: The International Food & Beverage Exhibition for North America will enjoy a healthy 6% increase in attendance.
The show also has become an important venue for American suppliers interested in exporting agri-food products to Canada and other countries. The show opens here April 13 at the Palais des congres de Montreal, with the goal of matching up buyers and sellers from dozens of overseas countries with their counterparts in the United States and Canada to facilitate food exports.
This year's show is expected to draw 14,200 visitors from 80 countries, up from 13,345 visitors from 77 countries at the last SIAL Montreal show in 2003. Exhibitors are expected to number 735 from 40 countries, up from 695 from 37 countries in 2003. The massive 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall, which was filled 96% to capacity in 2003 (roughly 86,400 net square feet), is expected to sell out completely this year -- a total of 93,000 net square feet.
For the North American retailer, the main attraction is an assortment of international products, including new items and gourmet fare, designed to increase sales by meeting consumer demand as a result of two emerging factors, said Alain Bellefeuille, general director of SIAL Montreal.
First is "the travel factor," a phenomenon that finds a growing demand for foreign foods by Americans and Canadians who develop a taste for international cuisines while working or vacationing abroad.
"We know that people are traveling more and more around the world," said Bellefeuille. "They are coming back home, and after tasting things in Thailand -- or India or England or France or Spain -- they would like to cook these things at home. They go to a grocery store, and they cannot find the product because the store does not carry it. I know from experience that demand from the consumer will cause [retailers] to react and to try to find those international products and bring them back to the grocery store to supply that demand."
The second type of demand comes from the growth and diversity of immigrant populations, Bellefeuille said.
"You in the States, and we in Canada, have a lot of people coming in through immigration," he said. "Those people are coming in from various countries, and they would like to find their own products from home, whether they are coming from China, Japan, Spain or Italy. If you go to New York, you will find stores in Italian areas where they have amazing products from Italy.
"I've seen supermarkets where they have a large international section, and they do quite well," Bellefeuille said. "This also applies to a small store -- let's say an Italian store -- that wants to find new products or new trends. [SIAL Montreal] suits every size store that has clients who are requesting more and more international products."
Inside the show, first-time visitors may be struck by the "all-business" tone. Unlike many other trade shows, which aim to entertain as well as inform, SIAL Montreal is primarily focused on deal making. And, Bellefeuille said, the producers who will be exhibiting at SIAL Montreal are capable of filling the largest orders. Organizers estimate that the 2003 SIAL Montreal show generated $500 million Canadian in commercial trade.
"These are not producers who can give you [only] two kilos per year. These are producers who can ship five containers per week," he explained.
"If a show like SIAL did not exist, the buyer would have to travel abroad to another country to find those products," Bellefeuille said. "Instead of that, they know what their consumers are looking for. When they come to a show like ours, they will find those products, or they will find people who are producing or selling those products there. The main purpose of the show is not just to see the products, it is to sell and buy the products."
According to show organizers, 38% of the 2003 SIAL Montreal visitors came from outside North America. Of those, 46% came from Europe; 22% from Central and South America and the Caribbean; 18% from Asia and southern Oceania; and 14% from Africa.
To make the experience more efficient for show visitors, the exhibit space will be divided into the following industry sectors: dairy products, meat products, seafood products, fruits and vegetables, grocery products, organic products, health foods and natural products, sweet goods, frozen foods, beverages, professional services and federations, regional pavilions, and national pavilions.
In addition, visitors can stroll through the "Innovation Showcase" display area to view more than 100 new products from all over the world in one central location.
To maximize exposure of products from specific countries and regions, SIAL Montreal will feature two special attractions: the USA Pavilion and the Gourmet Europe Pavilion.
The USA Pavilion, which is endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is designed to help American food companies expand into foreign markets, including one of the largest and friendliest markets, Canada.
Francois Gros, director of the USA Pavilion, said demand for American-made products is at an all-time high, especially in Canada, with more than two-thirds of its manufactured foods currently imported from the United States.
In addition to individual products, different groups are getting together to promote categories such as rice, meat products and Fresh USA Tomatoes (from Florida and California). One of the highlights of this year's USA Pavilion will be an exhibit by the Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA), a consortium of 13 state departments of Agriculture, whose mission is to promote local products on a global level.
"American exporters' first objective should be entering the Canadian market," said Gros. "There is a huge demand for produce, meat products and specialty grocery items like dried fruit, candy, gourmet popcorn, snacks and pudding."
"Canada is the easiest market to export to," said Gros. "It's close, they speak the same language, they have very similar culture, and ever since NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], there are no tariffs to pay."
Also, the Canadian dollar has been gaining value on the U.S. dollar, making American products increasingly affordable to Canadian consumers, Gros said.
To help promote trade into Canada, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa will be on hand to answer questions about exporting.
GOURMET EUROPE PAVILION
For North American buyers, the Gourmet Europe Pavilion is recommended as a must-see presentation of products that come from a specific region or a specific maker. Similar to the "appellation controlee" labeling laws that govern French wines, gourmet foods can now be sought out by very specific regions through labeling and certification.
Exhibiting in the Gourmet Europe Pavilion is a key part of a larger initiative, the European Gourmet Project, a three-year program designed to increase awareness of Mediterranean gourmet products and increase exports to the United States and Canada.
Inigo Canedo, managing director of the ARUM-European Gourmet Pavilion, said exhibiting at the SIAL Montreal show is an important step for European exporters wishing to reach new markets. He said many exhibitors are already regulars at SIAL's main show in Paris, and rely on SIAL organizers' knowledge of the changing climate in the food exporting business.
"One of the most important aspects of the European Gourmet Project is to attend the Fancy Food Show in the U.S. and the SIAL Montreal show in Canada," said Canedo. "Of course, there are also many other food and beverage shows all across Canada, but most of them are smaller and have a smaller emphasis on gourmet imported products."
"In Europe, both exhibitors and buyers are accustomed to attend shows far away from their bases," Canedo said. "This can be due to the smaller distances, and the historic importance of trade shows for many centuries. In North America, shows are smaller and there are fewer shows of national importance and attendance."
This year's Gourmet Europe Pavilion will feature the products of France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Thirty-eight companies will exhibit, including four new exhibitors. According to Canedo, the top products on display will be olive oil, cheese, meat, sauces and soups, and baked goods.
Among the new items attendees can expect to find are quality olive oils, cheese from new regions, jams, sauces, spices, condiments and mustard. Also on display will be ready-to-use sauces, gazpacho and other products designed to cater to the faster-paced lifestyles around the globe (See "Trends Driving Innovation," Page 27).
HISTORY OF SIAL MONTREAL
Indeed, tastes and trends have changed in the years since SIAL Montreal was conceived. Its origins date back some 40 years, when the show that would become SIAL: The International Food, Beverage, Wine and Spirits Exhibition, first opened its doors in Paris. By the mid-1990s, SIAL was organizing shows in South America and Asia, when the idea was hatched for a North American offshoot.
Bellefeuille, then general manager of the Super Salon de l'alimentation international, owned by the Quebec Food Retailers Association, and Paul-Arthur Huot, general manager of the Quebec Agri-Food Export Club, proposed the North American SIAL show in 1998 to take advantage of the export opportunities that had been created by NAFTA. The first edition of SIAL Montreal, held in 2001, proved to be a success with both buyers and exhibitors, said the organizers.
"We realized in the mid-1990s that North America didn't have any international trade shows specifically for food distribution," said Bellefeuille. "The Fancy Food Show [in the U.S.] is also international, but that is very specific in terms of the categories of products. You don't go to Fancy Food for peanut butter or soft drinks. The SIAL shows represent every product that goes on the shelves of the grocery store or the supermarket."
"Retailers were carrying more and more imported products. They needed a trade show that was not far from home," he said "We wanted to bring the foreign countries to North America, rather than bring North American buyers to various countries. We wanted to design an international trade show that would give buyers across North America a truly international offer, so they would not have to go to Italy, Spain or France."
Needing a world-class host city synonymous with gourmet foods, the organizers selected Montreal, home to some 5,000 restaurants representing 80 different cultures and cuisines. Equally important was Montreal's proximity to other major cities in the United States and Canada. For many North American business travelers, Montreal is just a two- or three-hour flight. Lastly, the exhibit space at Palais des congres de Montreal was ideally suited to house the first expo, and grow with each new incarnation of the show.
Although the show would likely attract visitors on an annual basis, SIAL will continue to stage the show every two years. The next edition will open its doors in 2007. According to Bellefeuille, the strategy is designed to maximize the number of new products shown at the expo.
"The idea is to bring a lot of new products," he said. "In a one-year cycle, you will have a lot fewer new products than if you have it every two years. The first reason the buyers go to a trade show is to seek innovation. That is what they are looking for. They're looking for something they don't have, something they've heard of or something that the customers have suggested. If we had a trade show of this magnitude every year, it would be difficult to have that number of new products and new ideas."
Another reason is to accommodate the busy schedules of the show's exhibitors.
"Exhibitors are being asked to go to markets all over the world," Bellefeuille said. "They face a lot of trade shows, and they have to make a selection. It's important to give them some space to make choices. When you have a show every two years, it's something you can plan. You have more space."
The next show might provide a logistical challenge, however. At press time, this year's exhibit space is on track to hit 100% of capacity. Which means SIAL Montreal will need additional space in 2007.
"Our goal is better, bigger and more international presentations, because that's what makes it interesting for the buyers," Bellefeuille said. "American buyers, when they come to Montreal, their first interest is not in the USA Pavilion, it's in the international booths."
Trends Driving Innovation
MONTREAL -- It's been two years since the last edition of SIAL Montreal. And in that time, food producers have moved to satisfy growing consumer demand for convenience and nutrition. SN asked SIAL Montreal organizers to highlight the food industry trends that will be the talk of buyers and exhibitors here at this year's show.
Trend 1: Convenience
Perhaps the biggest trend to be reflected at SIAL Montreal 2005 is convenience and portability. According to show officials, consumers worldwide are seeking foods that can be easily toted to work, or microwaved for a quick dinner. However, consumers are increasingly seeking healthy options, said officials.
Expect to see microwaveable pouches, triple-washed bagged salads, snack bars and meal replacement bars. "Desk-fast" foods such as a single-serving bagel and cream cheese (with knife and napkin) are just now catching on in Europe, and their popularity is expected to grow dramatically in the next few years.
"It's a trend becoming more and more common outside of the United States," said Alain Bellefeuille, general director of SIAL Montreal. "Mom and dad both go to work in the day. They have to rush back home pick up the children from kindergarten and they don't have time to cook, but they still want to have fresh product. That area is growing.
"The increasing trend is the ready-to-serve product that you find in the grocery store," he said. "And not just frozen products, but fresh products."
Trend 2: Functional foods
With increasing numbers of baby boomers turning 50 -- about 10,000 per day -- North America is a prime target for healthy, so-called "functional foods" from Europe. Additives such as soy protein, lutein, fiber and herbs like gingko biloba are turning up in breakfast cereals, sports beverages, breakfast bars, canned soups and yogurt, with the promise of prolonging life and fighting a variety of health problems.
"These products are already carried in grocery stores," said Bellefeuille, "and that will continue more and more in the future because major corporations as well as small companies are concerned with the health of the consumer."
Trend 3: Fresh healthy foods
Look for "naturally healthy products" such as fresh fruits and vegetables to be a big hit in the exhibition hall, as more and more health conscious consumers turn to produce to supply needed nutrition. Even potatoes and pasta, longtime bane of the low-carb dieter, are being repositioned as a source of nutrition.
"Consumers will be asking, 'What kind of potato will be good for my blood?' or 'What kind of broccoli will be good for my arthritis?"' Bellefeuille said.
Trend 4: Meat products
Although recent studies show the popularity of Atkins and South Beach diets is waning, North American meat products are expected to be in high demand from overseas buyers in the coming years, said organizers. Expect meat products to be prominent in the USA Pavilion and the Canadian regional pavilions.
Trend 5: Hot flavors, no trans fats
This year's hot flavors are related to foods that are low in hydrogenated oils, or trans fatty acids, which have been linked to heart disease and obesity. Show organizers said pomegranate, green and black teas, cranberry, and citrus products are the flavor stars of 2005 because they taste good, and they are low in so-called trans fats. Visitors should also expect to see traditional foods, like chips, cookies and cereals, that are low in artery-clogging fatty acids.