The biennial Anuga trade fair, taking place in Cologne from 13 to 17 October, is arguably the most important such event in the food industry’s calendar, attracting food processors, distributors, retailers, importers and industry associations from all over the globe. Dean Best reports from what many believe to be the industry’s only truly international show.

With more than 6,000 exhibitors showcasing their wares to over 160,000 visitors, the Anuga trade show in the German city of Cologne is a major date in the food industry calendar.

Every two years, for five days in October, the fair attracts a countless number of food processors, distributors, retailers, importers, industry associations – and the press – from Europe and beyond, and the sheer size and scale of the event is impressive. “All other fairs try to be international but, really, they’re not,” says one attendee from the dairy industry.

The dairy section is one of the ten specialist fairs at Anuga, which is based in the sprawling Koelnmesse complex in the centre of Cologne. Anuga offers multinational dairy groups, such as Arla Foods, the chance to showcase their global business in one spot and demonstrate the breadth of their business. For the likes of smaller firms, such as the UK’s Wyke Farms, it is a chance to meet potential clients in Europe in a bid to spread their business across the continent.

The dairy industry has been hitting the headlines in recent months with the cost of milk soaring and the Anuga Dairy hall was a buzz with how rising costs were affecting business. “During this show, I think it will be one of the main issues to discuss,” Dominik Büchel, European sales director for Switzerland-based dairy group Emmi, says. “It will be tough but I believe it is a challenge for the whole milk sector worldwide.”

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Neil McFarlane, a director at UK dairy and ingredients firm Fayrefield Foods, believes the “unprecedented” trading conditions in the sector could present an opportunity for his company, which is gradually expanding its business in Europe. “Retailers are looking at anything because prices are on the way up; they’re looking for something different.”

Fayrefield, McFarlane says, is looking to roll out its cheese brand Collier’s Powerful Welsh Cheddar into Europe, while also signing up more products from dairy firms to include the company’s functional ingredient Reducol, which, the company claims, reduces cholesterol. Indeed, many attendees at the show believe consumers on the continent are as keen for healthier products as they are in the UK. Baxters Food Group, the Scottish-based firm famous for its eponymous soups, is rolling out its Healthy Choice range into Europe in a bid to tap into that trend.

Baxters was situated in the Anuga Fine Food hall, where a number of UK food producers had gathered to exhibit, alongside national food promotion body Food From Britain. This corner of Anuga had turned into a little taste of the UK, giving small producers like Veetee, a purveyor of Indian cuisine, a platform to showcase their products.

In many ways, this is the strength of Anuga, a trade show where hundreds – if not thousands – of small, local firms can stand alongside the likes of Arla and General Mills. The eight other halls, including those focused on the bakery sector and organic food, housed a plethora of firms already strong on the continent but looking for new business.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that deals will be done amidst the hustle and bustle of an international trade show but Anuga can provide a chance to meet new contacts and build relationships that could soon turn lucrative. As Fayrefield’s McFarlane admits, often the main rationale of exhibiting at Anuga is “to be seen” and to not attend gives one the feeling of missing out.

Exhibitor numbers at Anuga are forecast to be up this year and, despite its European flavour, the show attracts major companies from around the world, such as US food giant General Mills and Canadian dairy group Saputo, not to mention a gaggle of smaller manufacturers from India to Brazil.

And somewhat surprisingly, just-food hears not one bad word about the fair – something of a rarity among trade shows. “Anuga acts as a magnet for the industry,” Baxters UK sales director Andy Mutton says. And the pull of Anuga means there’s no doubt that, in two years’ time, the throng will again swarm to Cologne for the next instalment.