MONTREAL — It may not be Paris, but some may find SIAL Montreal the next best venue for U.S. food distributors to source unique and diverse foods.
Given the weakness of the U.S. dollar, which has lost 45% from its peak against the euro in 2002, SIAL Montreal, April 23-25, will be more cost effective for North American attendees this year than flying to a big European exhibition. While the Canadian dollar lost some momentum last week against the weak U.S. dollar, the currency was trading at par.
Brokers, importers and association executives who attend SIAL Montreal told SN they did not expect economic turbulence in the U.S. to impact trading at SIAL in Canada. While a stronger Canadian dollar increases the cost of Canadian foods exported to the U.S., the lower-valued U.S. dollar works advantageously for U.S. food producers and exporters selling into Canada.
“The declining U.S. dollar, import safety and the political environment in which taxing of European and Asian imports has increased will add cost and complexity to food imports,” said Frank DiPasquale, senior vice president, National Grocers Association, Arlington, Va. The NGA will exhibit at the show, bring members to the exhibition and work in conjunction with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers on exchanging information, viewing the show and touring food stores in Montreal. DiPasquale said SIAL has a broad international scope that is not seen to such an extent at other U.S. food shows.
Importer Al Pish, vice president of meats for Atalanta Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., said that while the exchange rates are not favorable for imports, it really depends upon the category. “We're looking for specialty and gourmet as opposed to commodities,” he said, noting that higher-income American consumers are willing to pay for products that are different.
Bob Bauer, president of the Association of Food Industries, Neptune, N.J., which represents about 1,000 members who import foods to North America, said currency fluctuations are cyclical and are at the moment a big obstacle for members selling food into the U.S. Despite this, imported foods are rising, he noted. “With very few exceptions, the domestic industry normally can't produce everything that is needed. [Demand in the U.S.] has to do with the population that is more ethnically diverse than it used to be. That is opening markets for all types of foods which people taste in restaurants and want to bring home.”
What distinguishes SIAL from U.S. food shows, said Bauer, is that Canadian consumers have different tastes than American consumers. “The Canadian consumer has different likes and dislikes, so you'll see different types of food products than you would at a U.S. show.”
Food broker Peter Murphy, co-owner of Murphy's Food Sales and Marketing, Mississauga, Ontario, said that the biggest consumer trends in Canada are health and wellness. Organics continue to grow. He mentioned that Shoppers Drug Mart is rolling out 150 new organic products.
“The key word is innovation,” said Murphy. “There is a lot of innovation that comes out of Canada.” He said retailers visiting SIAL will see “good packaging, great presentation of good products and the role retail-branded products have to play, particularly if they visit stores and see it in action.”
Ken McKenzie, vice president of NARMS International, Stevens Point, Wis., said his group will be missing out of an opportunity in not attending this year's SIAL due to scheduling problems. He called last year's event “an eye-opening experience and a first step. I was stunned by the scope of the contacts made. It was a different show and a positive experience.”
McKenzie said his group was approached to possibly relocate its independent food broker and manufacturer meeting to SIAL Montreal. The meeting is currently held prior to the start of the FMI Show, which moves to a new venue in Las Vegas, May 4-7. McKenzie said he didn't think meeting in conjunction with SIAL would work geographically for his members.
Registration Up 10%
As SIAL Montreal gears up for its fifth run at the Palais des Congres convention center in this city known for its European flare and culinary diversity, organizers said registration is up 10% for exhibitors and registrants. Last year, the exhibition pulled in 13,372 visitors, which includes multiple visits from registrants, and 608 exhibitors. This year, SIAL Montreal would like to have 700 exhibitors on the show floor. Of exhibitors last year, 42% were from outside of Canada, representing 34 countries.
As previously reported, SIAL Montreal, produced by Paris-based trade show organizer Exposium, will run annually instead of every other year. This year, the exhibition will take place in April rather than at the end of March. The timing of the show bumps up against a busy U.S schedule of spring trade shows. Following the close of SIAL Montreal, there are the All Things Organic Conference and the Global Food & Style Expo specialty food show in Chicago. Both had previously been co-located with the FMI Show.
“The challenge for any show organizer is to find the right place at the right time,” said Francois Gros, president of IMEX Management, Charlotte, N.C., which promotes and markets SIAL as the U.S. representative for Exposium. The event was moved to April to avoid possible snow in Montreal. Gros said it will be easy to fly into Chicago for those wanting to attend the organic and specialty shows following SIAL. He said buyers will likely choose their trade shows according to which markets they want to penetrate.
The organizers are moving SIAL Montreal to an annual event because exhibitors and retailers said there is a need to preview new products and innovations more frequently than biennially, according to Gros.
The exhibition's campaign theme — “Get a Taste of Things to Come … at SIAL Montreal, where American Appetites Meet International Innovation” — sums up the appeal of the show for U.S. retailers, said Gros. “That is the whole idea. We definitely know most of the products at the show aren't in the U.S. American consumers over the last decade are looking for premium foods that bring something different.”
Gros believes that Americans' demand for unique food products will trump price increases because of currency devaluations or other cost factors. “Our focus is not on commodities. We aren't selling rice by the container or raw meats. Our show is on processed food products that are innovative, premium and have health benefits — there is so much competition in the various retail outlets in the U.S., supermarkets need to find products that help them be different from the competition,” Gros said.
Since SIAL Montreal began in 2001, the show has broadened its scope to include more food-service offerings, which Gros said also could interest retailers who sell prepared foods or run a restaurant operation.
“One fifth of SIAL Montreal visitors are from the food-service sector,” Mathieu Herrou, executive director, Expo Canada France, said in a statement. “We clearly have an opportunity in Montreal, a city famous for its culinary prowess. That is why we are pursuing a long-term vision of a Montreal International Food Week that will involve restaurants, specialty retailers and all types of food outlets in the city. This could involve launching high-profile events in future editions such as an international chef competition.”
Gros said SIAL Montreal would be a component of a citywide food celebration, which would only add momentum to the growth of the exhibition.