Last month's SIAL is one of the world's largest food shows. just-food's roving reporter Bruce Hoggard was in Paris to report back on numerous exciting new products and ingredients, as well as to offer objective criticism on how the show organisers and exhibitors could do better. While excited by much of what he saw, Bruce reckons there's room for improvement.

SIAL Paris is the world's second-largest food show and the largest food show to be held this year as it alternates with ANGUA in Germany every other year. This year its three halls divided into six food areas contained over 5200 exhibitors from 98 countries and offered 15 product sectors and numerous sub-categories of foods and beverages.

A yellow carpet, reminiscent of the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz, provided a visual guide and road map as it wove its way past more than 200 innovative products spread throughout the six areas. Special signs at the respective booths also alerted the visitor to the fact an innovative product was present at the booth.

Several other specific categories also gained special attention, including: Soups of the World, Organic products, Vending Machine products, Nutrition and Diet products and Sandwiches and Snacking.

The growth in the vending machine products category is a result of the changing eating habits resulting in snacking becoming more commonplace across all cultures. Europe is also moving in the same direction as Japan, where the vending machine is a major distribution channel for all products as Japanese consumers seek ease of access and the convenience vending machines provide it.

Meanwhile the growth of the organic industry at 30% in 2003 and accounting for US$23bn in sales (SIAL) means no show can ignore this category. SIAL had over 350 companies displaying organic food products and this number is expected to grow each year placing additional pressure to perform on shows like BioFach.

"Roll up, roll up..!"

As with most shows there are usually one or two people whose actions and mannerisms, in addition to the quality of and reaction to the food, are rememberable. This was also the case at SIAL. The most memorable was the Vegefarm booth as a member of the Taiwan national trade delegation attending the show provided comic relief and a break through in language differences. The company offered an extensive choice of vegetarian entrees made from soy protein. Although the curried product was good, the better draw of the booth was the Chinese gentleman standing in the corner calling out 'yummy, yummy' to the people as they walked past the booth. It would seem as if this word translates into all languages with the meaning of 'this is good come and try it.' It was also very effective, as 99% of the people could not resist the tantalising offer.

Pot and Pan foodservice from Greece was displaying its full range of traditional and authentic meals prepared from Greek recipes using only virgin olive oil, fresh ingredients and selected spices. The company is trying to capitalise on the current trend and fascination with Mediterranean cuisine throughout Europe. Unfortunately, four of its five samples at the show were cold and were less than desirable, ending up in the waste bin. Because they were cold, they lacked flavour, although the luke-warm Moussaka may have been an interesting dish if it had been hot. A quick look into the full garbage containers filled with uneaten samples only served to confirm the negative impression of this booth's samples.

East Indian food was prevalent throughout the Show. However, one of the companies with excellent tasting food and presentation was UK-based Noon Products. With its range of Indian frozen meals, chilled meats and frozen snacks the chef was kept busy preparing the range of products. One of the frozen meals, the Chicken Pasanda's all natural concoction of fresh onions, yogurt, almonds, ginger, coriander, fresh cream and garlic offered a pleasant and enjoyable taste and resulted in several return trips back for more samples.

Pasties flying the flag for Cornwall

Cranstock Bakery, based in Cornwall, was the local 'restaurant' in Hall 2, as it became one of the more frequently visited booths by both the other exhibitors and show visitors. In fact, they went through over 1000 individual pieces during the show.

The family-owned and -controlled company produces excellent high quality Cornish Pasties (empanadas), pies, sausage rolls and dessert products. Nick Ringer, the chairman, managing director and founder, still insists on handmade and hand-crimped products even though the company continues to grow, placing added demands on supply. The selections include: traditional, vegetarian, Mediterranean and steak.

The pastry was flaky, soft and inviting but was also able to contain the full and tasty filling that met every bite. The taste of the products was genuine and provided a strong reason for why more companies should make quality not quantity the number-one driving force. The product was filling and one empanada took the edge off any hunger and more than enough for a lunch or a snack while enjoying your favourite beverage at the local pub or in front of the television at home. It was a pleasure to actually have a product with a filling instead of only pastry filled with air.

The outdoors life

Successful Brands Group launched its Bar-B-Bar brand only four years ago and it is already Europe's number one award winning BBQ brand of sauce and dip. The product has also won more than eight other major awards and leads the way with its fun packaging, clever approach to lifestyle marketing and advertising, and innovative products.

According to managing director Brian George, the company's most effective means of advertising and brand positioning has been to create the now famous BBQ Week, a popular event in the UK and more recently in Europe. In 2005, Estonia will be hosting the World BBQ Competition, while Switzerland will play host to the European BBQ event. In addition, a first for any media report, is the fact the United States will host its first American Competition as Jack Daniels teams up with Bar-B-Bar in Lynchburg on 4 July, 2005. The 2006 World event returns to the UK as it celebrates ten years.

New for 2004 is Bar-B-Bar's adventurous range of products- New Orleans Smokey Blues; Out of Afrika Safari Select; Bushman's Tucker Outback Delight; Caribbean Calypso Island Hoppin - great flavour for fish, seafood, chicken or even goat - mango, chilli and exotic ginger. The Caribbean had an initial sweet taste followed by an explosion of hot while the smoky taste of the New Orleans with the crystallised molasses is a great covering for ribs guaranteed to stick to your fingers as well as your ribs when you eat them.

German pre-mixes encourage home baking

Kathi Rainer Thiele is a very prominent and respected German company and the oldest manufacturer of baking mixes in Germany. Launched in 1951, in then East Germany, Kathi has grown to be an extremely successful family-run company. It continues to enjoy success because of its concern and attention to consistent quality and customer service and product innovation and selection. In fact, Rainer Thiele himself will be on Canadian television in late November having been interviewed for a one-hour documentary by CBC as one of the former East Germany's most successful companies.

Several examples of Kathi's innovative and new products were on display at SIAL. As of July 2004, Kathi became the first company to create a baking mix for French style tarts - the shallow crust variety so famous and popular in France.

In another exclusive for just-food.com, Thiele also mentioned during the interview that Kathi would launch its brand in the UK in March 2005 with a selected line made for that market. He is expecting similar success to the United States venture that is serviced by its American distributor, Gourmets International - so Betty Crocker and Pillsbury had better watch out!

The product uses no artificial ingredients or preservatives and although it is not organic, its ingredients come from controlled cultivation and are certified as being all-natural. All that is required to prepare the cake are the fresh ingredients - eggs, butter and in some recipes, the fresh berries and water. During the show, Kathi was sampling several of its finished cake mixes and the Lemon Tarte simply melted in your mouth in the most wonderful way. It was by far the best lemon dessert at the show.

According to Matthias May, the Sales Manager, Kathi also produces a bread mix in several varieties including whole wheat and rye. The mix produces a 500 gram loaf of bread at home for €0.70 (US$0.90) compared to a store purchased product at €2.20. The bread was excellent and ensures fresh home made bread each day with added reassurance on quality and safety.

For this advent and festive season, Kathi is also introducing a Christmas Cake, the fourth product in its festive season product line. The other festive products include; Almond Stollen Cake, Chocolate Cheese Cake and Marzipan and Poppy Tarte.

The Christmas Cake is a dark batter mix with cinnamon and cherries. As with the other mixes all of the necessary ingredients are contained in the box; the baking mix, the cocoa-cinnamon-mix and a dark glaze. All that is added are the fresh ingredients. To further personalize the cake the cherry juice can be replaced with red wine.

In 2004, the company received 38 gold medals from the CMA in Germany confirming and awarding Kathi for its commitment and diligence in assuring the high quality of its products is maintained. In addition, Kathi received the CMA'S Golden Quality Mark ribbon for its Chocolate Layer Cake. This award is the highest distinction, recognising products that, over the course of three years, have amassed the highest number of points. Moreover, each additional bite of the sample at the booth just served to confirm this.

Horseradish a perennial favourite

Horseradish has always been a special product in Germany because of its German roots and the company Schamel continues to uphold this respected German image to the world. During the show Hanns-Thomas Schamel was there to promote his company's wonderful products that were started in 1846 when Johann Wilhelm Schamel founded a horseradish wholesale business in Franconian Baiersdorf. "The best or nothing at all" principle still applies today, as Schamel has been Germany's number one best-selling horseradish brand for decades.

The product samples at the show were excellent and they had a horseradish product to suit almost everyone's taste. The Creamed Mild and Spicy (made with Alpen cream) was a smooth sauce that had a bite at the end while the Bavarian Hot and Spicey and the Rachenputzer (extra hot) left your mouth feeling as if it was on fire. For the less adventurous and those with their taste buds still intact, there was the apple-cream (made with fresh apples), and the Cranberry-cream, a mild and fruity horseradish with wild cranberries added.

Depending on your particular taste and propensity for burning out your taste buds, all of the samples tasted would be a welcome addition to any meat, fish or seafood choice. Their ability to enhance and enrich the flavour was wonderful.

Innovation - although some failed to capitalise

At this year's SIAL, the organisers had a special area showcasing international trends and innovations. Various companies were selected and given the opportunity to display their products under glass cases as well as be promoted in a special book designed for the show.

This was a powerful marketing and awareness tool that you would think companies would be observant and interested in maintaining. However, one company in particular seemed to be totally oblivious to their display and it left a very negative and questionable impression of their product. Dreistern Nahrungsmittel, a German company, produces frozen bread with a hole in the middle for several types of fillings. The product on display however quickly turned disgusting as mould covered the entire product making it look less than appealing. The general comments from people around the display indicated the company was losing more business than it was generating because of its lapse in quality control and diligence. Unfortunately, their booth manners were also less than appealing.

Japanese company Lotte has produced and packaged a new way to enjoy ice cream that allows the person to drink it. In keeping with using English sounding names, a popular trend in Japan, the product is called "Coolish". The product is designed for the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, where only one hand is free as you are jammed into over crowded trains. The product also caters to the consumer's concern with hygiene and the fact they do not want to get their hands dirty or sticky. Packaged in CheerPack pouches with a spout and re-sealable cap, Coolish is meant to be squeezed into a person's mouth at a product temperature of minus 8 degrees Celsius. Coolish has a pronounced and unique initial taste that takes getting used to and then a light aftertaste. Although limited in flavours, the product rocketed to its top ranking in Japan in only three weeks but would need modifications for Europe and North America.

Another interesting and an extremely usable product is "Ketchup Rapé" produced by the French company, France FROMAGE. It is a ketchup-based product packaged to resemble cheese-like grated strands. With a similar taste to tomato-cheese, this product can be used hot or cold as a garnish on salads, pizzas, sandwiches or between two slices of bread as a sandwich. It was also one of the 'Judges'' favourite products.

The Danish firm Back11Basics was recognised for its new sugar-free flavoured candy sheets with breath sweeteners. These flat, small sheets branded as "Oxydent" are made from gelatine and dissolve instantly in the mouth. They provide fresh breath without the need to keep a candy in your mouth. The product is sold in a plastic box similar to other breath mints, has 24 sugar-free sheets and provides instant freshness.

One of several products in the innovation area targeted at the catering and foodservice industry that would also meet the needs of consumer looking to add a different dimension to their dinner parties or other entertainment came from Croc'in. A company from Belgium, it was displaying its miniature spoon-shaped "small bites" that could be filled with a multitude of desserts fillings. The product was good but crumbled into pieces when bitten into - so it was better to consume the entire amount in one bite, making less mess.

As the French, at least in Paris, move away from the traditional 2-hour lunch where everything closes, Bahier (of France), has introduced an individually wrapped product that acts as a meal, snack or party tray. A thick slice of country bread, with a soft inside and crunchy outside, is 'filled' with one of several delicious toppings including a creamy milk sauce or tomato and different ingredients including vegetables, fish and cheese. These are then reheated using the packaging tray or it can also be eaten cold. Either way it provides a hearty meal or cut into smaller pieces it becomes an appetiser or small toasts for a dinner party.

Choco-lina, the Austrian company producing sheep milk chocolate has grown since it was mentioned in this column last year. Johann Hochleitner, the founder and managing director, has added several new varieties and he remains very passionate about his chocolate. The new varieties include 65% dark chocolate with pumpkin seeds and a white chocolate with grey and white poppy seeds. In each case, the chocolate draws out and enhances the respective flavours of the seeds imbedded in them. The white chocolate has 2% sheep's milk making it a darker colour than the stark white most people are accustomed too. However, in both circumstances the chocolate bars are great and will definitely appease most consumers' sweet tooth.

Conclusion

Overall, this year's version of SIAL was interesting, very informative and provided visitors with numerous new and innovative products. As always, there were also numerous companies there just to greet and meet their current suppliers and/or distributors. Each evening more and more parties lasted longer into the evening and it seemed as if the show halls would never empty.

However, the last day saw an interesting turn of events and a rather unflattering one. Booths started being dissembled at approximately 2 pm and the visitors walking the aisles began to change dramatically. The business people became the minority as people carrying several bags and pushing "shopping carts" began to take their place. By 3pm, there were at least 150 booths that had been totally abandoned to the ravaging hordes that descended upon the show. The total lack of professionalism and decorum was best exemplified by people breaking into glass display cabinets where exhibitors had left samples. Further cases of destruction were evident, as glass, shelves lay broken in booths and empty display boxes strewn about the floor. The exhibitors were nowhere to be found and people were literally fighting over cans of product and in some cases empty boxes. The best examples of what was happening were; one man with 25 bags of samples waiting for help to carry them out; two men pushing two flatbed trolleys full of samples at least four feet high and finally, at one of the African booths enough samples to have lasted a family of ten for six months.

Even the continual reminder over the loudspeaker about staying at the booth until 5pm fell on deaf ears and by 4:30pm it was nearly impossible to find exhibitors at their booth. However, in the exhibitors' defence, show organisers were sending mixed messages because their staff already collected the computers, plants and other rented booth materials at 3pm.

Given this and the general mood of many on the exhibitors on the last day the show is probably too long. The organisers may be wise to re-visit the show hours or be prepared to padlock the doors and post armed guards if they want and expect exhibitors to stay to the very bitter end!