Blog: Dean BestEconomic chill deters visitors from ISM

Dean Best | 31 January 2012

After attending the giant Anuga trade show at Cologne's sprawling Messe exhibition centre, the ISM confectionery expo, held at the same venue since Sunday, was always going to feel smaller. However, seasoned exhibitors believe this year is one of the quietest ISM events in recent years.

Official numbers are not yet available but, talking to suppliers yesterday (30 January), it was a commonly held view that the number of visitors this year is below that seen at previous events.
"This is our 15th year now and this is the quietest show in all those years," Preet Grewal, co-founder of UK snack bar and cereal maker Eat Natural, said. "These are difficult times for a lot of companies and consumers."

Of course, fewer visitors means, in practice, that exhibitors have fewer appointments and are happier to spend more time with the media, talking at length about their business.

Eat Natural, for one, was showcasing new cereal products about to hit shelves at Tesco and Waitrose, while Grawla was also keen to talk about the continued potential for the company in international markets, which account for 20% of the firm's sales.
He also insisted a show like ISM had its benefits. "This is an important place to come because it's a focal point for all our distributors," he said.
An event like ISM can also boost the profile of a company in the minds of key decision-makers in its domestic market, according to Clive Miquel, the CEO of UK confectioner and snack maker Lees Foods.

"We have a long discussion every year about whether we are going to do it again but it's quite a good PR exercise because we see a lot of customers from the UK. It gives us a bit of visibility," Miquel said.

Lees sells products into markets like France but exports remain account for 5% of turnover, Miquel said. The company's portfolio of snowballs and teacakes "don't travel well", he explained. "They hate the heat, so unless we have a route to market it's difficult." Miquel insisted Lees, as a company, has "quite stretching targets over the next five years" and says if exports remain 5% of sales he would be "pleased with that". The company sells into markets like Malta, Canada and Australia.

Despite the widely-held view that visitor numbers were down, there were some suppliers who finished the day upbeat.

"That's the busiest day we've had at ISM," David Roberts, national account manager for UK biscuit maker Furniss told just-food.

Roberts acknowledged other suppliers that have attended the show more frequently might disagree with the level of visitors but he remained encouraged.

"This is our fifth year here. We're now more established and people recognise us. The quality of visitors to our stand has been better."

There were times yesterday when the halls grew busier and resembled the usual bustle of an international trade event. However, it was unquestionably quiet. Was it the freezing weather in Cologne? More likely it was the deep chill surrounding consumer markets in Europe.

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