Event Wrap-Up: SIAL Paris 2008
Paris Nord Villepinte at the Parc des Expositions
October 19-23, 2008
Imagine 8 buildings, each as large as 3 football fields, and each packed wall-to-wall with every kind of food product imaginable. Charcuterie of all shapes and sizes, hundreds of wines available for tasting, giant Korean mushrooms, intensely flavored fruit powders, home molecular gastronomy kits – food is everywhere here at the mother of all SIAL events, which is held every two years outside the northern gates of Paris.
SIAL (Salon International de l'Agro-Alimentaire) Paris certainly lives up to its name; the “Global Food Marketplace” brings together a whopping 5,500 exhibitors and 145,000 professionals over 5 days in what has become a leading showcase of the global food product market. Compared to the smaller edition of SIAL Montreal attended by StarChefs in April, the Paris edition is a sprawling 215,000 square meters of exhibition space with 19 different sectors filling a total of 8 mammoth pavilions at the Parc des Expositions.
At the largest of the four SIAL events held in North America, South America, Asia and Europe, we found all walks of food life: journalists, producers, retailers, manufacturers, distributors, supermarket buyers, trade associations and government officials (though we didn’t notice many chefs walking the aisles). A thick stack of business cards and a good pair of walking shoes were definitely of the essence.
They Have an Entire Hall…Dedicated to Meat!
Each of the 8 pavillions at SIAL is dedicated to different sections of food-related exhibits, with small and large companies hawking wares that range from designer dairy products to French regional terroir foods. Countries’ national and regional representatives were spread across the event, promoting artisanal and traditional products (we’ve never seen so many different olive oils), in often ornate exhibits. One hall in particular was devoted to meat and seafood products, displaying everything from rows of Iberico ham haunches to deep-frozen seafood – a carnivore’s ultimate fantasy. The Food Design area held some fun and innovative products including a painter’s palette of colors made from dyed camembert cheese cream. (Consult the sidebar for more products that we liked.)
To the working chef seeking to expand their culinary horizon, SIAL offers plenty of interesting and unfamiliar products and produce, although the number of specifically chef-oriented products is limited, and a US distribution channel is not guaranteed. Still, many of the products that we liked are available to the US market through known importers, such as Koerner, Sid Wainer, Chefs’ Warehouse, Roland Foods, and others.
As usual at SIAL, awards were given out to the most outstanding product exhibitors. The Trends and Innovations area showcased a judges’ selection of 350 products from the event. The Trends & Innovations Grand Prix represented SIAL’s favorite product innovations (prizes went to 9 French and 6 international products). The Retail World section hosted the SIAL d’Or, which awarded prizes to the most successful products launched since the last Paris edition. (Refer to the SIAL website for a list of winning products.)
Left: Giant Korean King Oyster Mushrooms Right: Jamon at the Andalucia Stand
SIAL’s wine tasting area was one of the most impressive attractions of the event with more than 200 wines from 14 countries on display. The Wine Innovation section in Hall 7 was a wine-lover’s delight: it featured varietals and blends, international brands, and had specialized tastings and presentations by various producers. The Best Buy section featured wines selected for their outstanding value-for-price, and the Top Brands area promoted 30 major wine brands whose innovative character, sales performance and value are stimulating the wine market today.
The fun and variety of SIAL’s wine exhibits drew strong attendance from visitors and exhibitors who perused the many bottles on display, leisurely sampling and recording tasting notes in handy notebooks provided by the organizers, which also featured contact information for each wine producer.
Tastings at The Wine Innovation Forum
Nutrition = Beauty
Over the last years, SIAL has been committed to making nutrition a focal point, and this edition was no exception. The “Nutrition Village” area connected dieticians and nutritionists from major research institutes with nutritional product vendors and buyers in a forum where they demonstrated their know-how and tools to the crowd at exhibits and in the 30-odd discussion panels. The nearby Food and Beauty section was the brainchild of SIAL and the Beyond Beauty cosmetics expo; here, vendors exhibited products that aim to bridge the gap between nutrition and cosmetics (which the Europeans have dubbed “cosmetofoods”). Think herbal teas that improve the complexion, and other products in the same vein.
Was It a Sustainable Event?
Sustainable development is a buzzword these days, and SIAL was on the ball. According to the event organizers, a record number of Fair Trade products were featured at SIAL Paris. The Nutrition Agora also held various panels on eco-labeling, environmental protection, and natural product trends. An event of such magnitude has the potential to leave a considerable ecological footprint – and SIAL’s own green initiatives came in the form of recycled gift bags and an effective sorting program for the waste generated during the event (three different colored garbage bins stood at every corner). Nearly 50 tons of products were also collected by 300 food bank volunteers for distribution to charity organizations.
Though it is by far an event more suited to large buyers and retailers than to back and front-of-house restaurant professionals, SIAL continues to be a successful event for its market because of its ability to keep up with new product offerings and to present emerging trends in an interesting manner. While SIAL resembles the North American National Restaurant Association show in many ways, chef-to-chef exposure and demonstrations are limited, so keep this in mind if you are planning on making the trip.
If you are attending the Paris edition in 2010, we do recommend that you spread your attendance over several days with multiple colleagues as the sheer scale of the Paris event makes covering the entire thing a difficult proposition for those with limited time (or carrying luggage). There are a lot of exhibits and sections to see and a lot of distance to cover. For chefs who are more comfortable with a smaller scale exhibit, and want to learn more about Canadian products available to the US, be sure to mark your calendar for the next edition of SIAL, which will take place in Montreal during April 1-3, 2009.
And whichever you attend, wear comfortable shoes!
For more information on 2009-2010 exhibition dates, visit www.sial.fr.
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