As the Asian economy begins its arduous recovery following SARS and avian influenza, Singapore is again poised to resume its growth as demonstrated by increased consumer confidence and spending. This guarded optimism provided the backdrop for Food & Hotel Asia 2004 (FHA2004), the very popular biannual event representing the food and hospitality industries. Bruce Hoggard was there.

When compared with the 2002 edition this, the 14th show, had an even stronger line-up of products and services, justifying its title as “the largest international event of its kind in Asia”. FHA2004, held 20 to 23April, filled the entire six halls of the Singapore Expo, the main exposition facility near the airport.

FHA is a synergistic collection of six simultaneous exhibitions comprising FoodAsia, Wine&SpiritsAsia, BakeryAsia, HotelAsia, HospitalityTechnology and HospitalityStyleAsia. Each caters to its own specific target market and industry. In conjunction with the trade show were eight conferences and workshops running concurrently. There were also five major competitions during the show, including the FHA Culinary Challenge that encompassed the Gourmet Team Challenge and the Dream Team Challenge. A new addition this year was the Imperial Challenge. In this competition culinary experts specialising in Chinese cuisine competed against each other producing many tantalising eight-course meals in three and a half hours.

First established in Singapore in 1978, this year’s show was the largest FHA ever. The booths at FHA2004 occupied 25,000m2 of net exhibition space and covered a total area of 65,000 m2. More than 2,800 companies and organisations from 60 countries and regions participated in the exhibition and the supporting conferences, workshops and competitions. With 80% foreign content, the show once again illustrated its importance to the international community. Several new entrants this year were from China, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Turkey while there were national and group pavilions from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Japan, Spain, Taiwan and the USA.

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Food safety issues, a very important and timely topic, were featured during the seminar portion of the event. It dealt with assessing the impact of BSE, bird flu and other health and safety concerns on the foodservice, retail and hospitality industries. Another seminar topic, the inaugural Fresh Produce Forum, discussed how to improve profitability for fresh-produce importers and distributors through transport and cold storage improvements. With this area growing, especially in the organic industry, it too was timely and relevant to a segment of the participants at the show.

The food products at FHA2004 covered an extensive and exciting array of choices ranging from delicacies and fine foods to convenient snacks and ready-to-eat meals. These products included choices from leading western brands and dozens of newer Asian producers. This year’s show marked the strong and emerging Asian cuisine as its brands came to the forefront. Many of these food manufacturers presented numerous authentic and ready-to-use sauces, mixes and condiments created to make professional and home cooking of Asian foods easier.

For instance, Singapore Food Industries (SFI), a leading integrated food company in Singapore, was promoting its recently launched range of concentrated cooking sauces, gravies and desserts. These are aimed at the foodservice and retail sectors under the Farmpride brand name. A local favourite, sold in a pouch format, it has been well received in Australia, the Middle East and Europe. SFI is currently introducing its TAJ brand ready-to-eat ethnic meat and vegetable curries to Japan and to Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, two lucrative food markets.

Toasted sandwiches

The leading French bakery chain Delifrance, a recognisable name on the streets of Singapore, returned to FHA after an eight-year absence. The general manager of Delifrance Asia Wholesale, Stephane Bureau, used FHA2004 to launch ”Provencette”, its new hot toasted sandwich concept. This is a popular trend in Singapore, in fact worldwide, as consumers seek healthier lifestyle choices in their daily meal routine. The company also presented its new product selection for 2004 offering more than twenty new products under the promotion ”24 hours with you”.

As with every food show, chefs worked throughout the halls preparing and promoting the latest and best the companies had to offer. One such company was Bakels. It originated in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1904 to provide bakery ingredients and products to its domestic market. In 2004 the Bakels Group has grown to be an international company, represented by its own manufacturing companies and selected agents on all continents and in 120 countries. At the show it had chefs from New Zealand, Fiji, Malaysia and Singapore displaying its new range of easy-to-prepare cake mixes, muffin mixes, whipping creams, cooking chocolates and cookie mixes. This was a dessert person’s version of “heaven” and a dieter’s nightmare – but all delicious and good.

The drinks’ section of the show included fruit juices, concentrates and cordials plus the ever-popular coffees and teas in numerous flavours and styles of packaging. Tea and coffee connoisseurs of all types and tastes could also work their way along the “Tea and Coffee Trail,” assured of new, exciting and familiar flavours.

Among the products

For the person with a sweet tooth who enjoys “special treats” for all occasions, Emborg Foods, a major international marketing and distribution company in the Danish food industry, has just the product. One of its new items is its traditional Danish butter cookie, the type that melts in the mouth.

These world-famous, real Danish Butter Cookies are made from only the finest ingredients, resulting in a cookie where one is never enough. The cookies are presently available in two offerings. The first is the traditional Danish butter cookies mix. For those people who enjoy chocolate then the second blend, referred to as the more American-style Chocolate Chip Cookies, is the cookie of choice.

Both variations of cookies are beautifully packaged in decorative round metal containers making them a very popular gift for any occasion.

Exotic Food Co. is relatively new, having been established in 1999. This Thai company is a manufacturer and exporter of authentic Thai food products including chilli sauce and curry paste, under its brand name Exotic Food. It also has numerous rice products, and various forms and styles of fruits and vegetables. These are quality foods capturing the true essence and flavour of Thailand.

Using only top-quality raw materials, one of Exotic Foods’ products, a ready-to-serve canned curry, is prepared according to the company’s own original Thai recipe. The crowning achievement of this product is now everyone can cook and serve authentic Thai curry in the comfort of their home, no matter where in the world that home may be. Individuals can also add their own additional chicken, prawn, pork or other meat choice. The curry is available in several choices including the more familiar, red curry, green curry, and yellow curry. For the more adventurous individuals there are, Tom Kha soup, Tom Yum soup, Phanaeng curry and Massaman curry.

The other product guaranteed to add an authentic Thai taste and flavour to any dish is Exotic Food’s sweet chilli sauce. Again, based on original Thai recipes, this chilli sauce delivers a subtle chilli flavour to any dish, capturing the very feel of a Thai restaurant.

When it comes to snacking, a popular booth with plenty of samples was Kettle Foods Ltd. This UK based company uses several hundred tonnes of potatoes each week to produce its famous KETTLE® brand gourmet snacks with the “hand-cooked crunch.”

The company currently offers twelve flavours of kettle chips (crisps), with the most recent seasonal addition being the Gorgonzola Cheese with Leek and Rosemary chips. This tasty chip combines the taste and the sharpness of Gorgonzola with the subtle blend of leeks and a dash of Rosemary to finish off the accent.

Other interesting combinations of flavours were two special flavoured chips, Golden Parsnip, and Sweet Potato. A fourth unusual flavour, available in selected markets only, was Yoghurt and Green Onion. The Yoghurt and Green Onion chips provide a lively taste as the yoghurt serves to initially mellow the tanginess of the green onion, which escapes with each bite. These flavours are definitely suited to the more mature palate.

Kettle Foods Ltd. also produces four types of conventional tortillas and, as a sign of the times, two organic variations. The Louisiana Hot Sauce Tortillas is definitely hot as the tortillas combines a smoky taste and an infusion of spices, onion and tomato, blended with hot jalapeno peppers. It’s the type of snack requiring a “fire extinguisher” close at hand.

With the success of the 2004 show behind them the organisers’ focus, after several days of rest, turns to the next show in 2006. And given the crowds who attended and the positive results experienced by many of the exhibitors, trade show organisers should be planning now to ensure they will have space in FHA2006.