Gulfood a boost for F&B market morale
Although doom-mongerers predicted that this year’s show would attract fewer visitors than for previous years, Gulfood 2009 proved them wrong. Ben Watts assesses the success of the exhibition for visitors, exhibitors and organisers alike
The region’s leading food show sailed back into town last month for its biggest ever edition, this time adding an additional venue and plenty of new exhibitors to boot.
And to the delight of both exhibitors and visitors, the daddy of Middle East food shows proved once again why Dubai remains the food and beverage industry’s regional hub.
Rastelli owner Anthony Rastelli, who was exhibiting in Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre’s (DICEC) Sheikh Maktoum Hall this year, says Gulfood 2009 was “one of the more successful shows” for the Halal food company, adding that there had been no particular impact from the economic climate.
“We have not seen the global downturn have too much effect on the market we are in and we have had a focus here for the last six years,” adds Rastelli.
“Our booth in the USA Pavilion was a lot bigger then those around us — everybody else has downsized, but we expanded our stand.”
The New Jersey-based firm broke with convention by avoiding the style used across the USA Pavilion in an attempt to garner more attention from potential clients.
“We had the US flag in various places around the stand, but we wanted the roof of the stand left off in order to give it a different appearance, rather than being boxed in,” comments Rastelli.
The company brought with them the president of Halal Transactions of Omaha Dr Amad Al-Absy, to highlight its commitment to Halal procedures.
Al-Absy explains: “Many of our customers, like Rastelli, are concerned about exporting to the Middle East and we can tell these customers that the product is Halal all the way from farm to fork.”
Another satisfied company, also exhibiting in the convention centre’s Sheikh Maktoum Hall, was Austrian coffee giant Julius Meinl, whose regional distribution partners Merchant Star International had constructed a stylish coffee house stand in the Austrian Pavillion.
Merchant Star International managing director Ali Kadkhodaei comments: “The response we had has been excellent and it was the perfect opportunity to meet with our current regional clients.”
Last year’s Gulfood was the first time Julius Meinl had a presence at the show, but Kadkhodaei it gave the company “a chance to meet many potential distributors across the whole region for Meinl”.
“The Hotel Show 2009 in May (also at DICEC) is a chance to meet target clients, but we get to meet many F&B managers and decision-makers at Gulfood.
“This year it is approximately the same crowd as last year, however I think the food industry in general has not been as badly hit by the economic crisis as perhaps the financial sector or real estate sector,” he explains.
Julius Meinl chief executive Marcel Loeffler, who was also present at the show supporting Merchant Star International, said he had been impressed by the layout of the stand.
“As a company we try to bridge our traditional routes and contemporary values and that’s why I was so happy with the set-up,” says Loeffler.
“I was pleased not only with the way it was designed but also the reaction of the customers and stand visitors.”
Black Rock Grill managing director Peter Hatter was also impressed by this year’s show. “It was very good; we got five orders away across the first two days and although the third day was a little quieter, we generated a lot of interest,” he explains.
Hatter adds that the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism has become his latest client, thanks to Gulfood.
“They saw our product and decided to change the concept at a restaurant in their latest Dead Sea resort,” he explains.
“There were also a lot of Iranian hoteliers at the show, which we didn’t see last time we were here.”
According to Hatter, this year’s show was “a lot more professional” than his last visit to the exhibition two years ago.
“What I liked about this year’s Gulfood was that all the idiots weren’t here,” Hatter asserts. “Two years ago it was manic, but this year because of the admission charge there were less people, but of better quality.
“It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality and instead of having the wrong people there you actually saw the decision makers.”
Hatter cites the admission charge as one of the key reasons behind the raised level of professionalism.
“You can’t just have a free-for-all; at the end of the day we’re all here to do business,” he points out. “There’s no point in having people milling about if they’re not going to buy — if they’re serious about catering what’s AED 50 to enter the exhibition?
“I’ve put my form in for next year, but I’m going to come on my own instead of with the British delegation,” he adds.
Another company making its mark at the show was OK Furniture. Company chairman Hamid Reza Nadali comments: “It was a very professional show and far better than last year; we managed to do a few good deals this year.
“The big advantage of Gulfood is that all the dignitaries who attend are professional,” continues Nadali. “They come here for a deal; there’s no wasting time, no checking something and moving on.”
Nadali says his only complaint would be the lack of international publicity surrounding the exhibition.
“Gulfood needs more advertising to attract to more clients and visitors from different countries,” he insists.
Gulfood project manager Goli Vossough says she was extremely happy with the outcome of this year’s show, emphasising the high level of professionalism throughout the exhibition.
“The majority of the exhibitors gave me a very positive vibe; they have all been very upbeat and some have made outstanding deals with suppliers and distributors,” she reveals.
“Overall, everyone was really happy with the show — and if the exhibitors are happy then I’m happy, because that means we’ve done our job properly and they’ve conducted their business.”
Vossough explains that the decision to implement an admission fee has helped the show tremendously over the past two years.
“We introduced the fee last year, so it’s not a new concept, but it does help as it means the normal Joe Bloggs can’t just walk in.
“We have been very strong with our marketing campaign and the messages we have sent out; we have been emphasising heavily that this is a trade-only show and only visitors and buyers for this industry should be coming into the convention centre,” she says.
Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) marketing manager Yvonne Zeljkovic adds: “It’s essentially our unique selling point — it’s the thing that other international shows don’t do.
“Gulfood is the one that vets the visitors pre-registration and on-site, maintaining the quality of the visitors; that’s something all the exhibitors raved about this year.
“And to be able to get all these exhibitors and have them happy about the quality it quite exceptional,” she says.
This year’s Gulfood demonstrated that Dubai can continue to play a major role as a regional, if not worldwide, F&B hub in spite of the global economic downturn — a point many exhibitors were keen to expand on.
Appearing at the show for the third time, chair manufacturer Fenabel’s chief executive Elsa Leite says: “Dubai is still the best market; we do 40% of our business in the Middle East and most of that is through our channels in Dubai. The show seemed busier this year and there were certainly more important contacts.
“People were really interested; they didn’t just come to ask for the sake of asking — they csme to make deals,” she asserts. Fancy Food Service Equipment North American representative Paul Chi was exhibiting at the exhibition for the first time and says he liked the show because it had “enormous traffic”.
“The fact that we were doing a live show attracted people to gather around our cooking table and sample our food — and that then brought in a lot of enquiries,” says Chi.
“Dubai’s a hub that attracts people from all over the world and I gathered more than a hundred business cards at Gulfood — all very good leads,” he continues. “I think we have a very big potential market for our smokeless teppanyaki table in the Middle East.”
Chi adds that, compared to other shows, Dubai’s Gulfood offered a more diverse market. “Other shows are good, but this one provides us with a better reach into the European market,” he says.
Rastelli’s Anthony Rastelli believes the show can continue to grow in strength as long as the economic downturn doesn’t cause the region’s economies to dive too drastically.
“I think shows like this can continue to grow unless the economy has a real slump,” he says.
“It’s a world economy today, so what affects the US or the UK for example will have effect on the Middle East.”
But Rastelli is confident his firm will see the financial downturn through by remaining “positive and upbeat”.
“We’ll ride this through — everything is reciprocal; look at the newspapers during the 1983 recession and they would be a mirror of what we’re going through today.
“The last quarter was actually the best quarter we’ve ever had; if we don’t double our business that we currently have over the next six to eight months, I would be very disappointed,” he continues.
“Gulfood for us has been outstanding and we remain are positive and upbeat going forwards.”
However EDS Design marketing manager Moin Ali Zaidi notes that the cost for loading and packing equipment into the convention centre was higher than last year.
“The charges for loading were very high,” he comments. “Last year it was high but they’ve put the prices up again this year.”
But the marketing manager adds that this year’s show was a success for his firm and despite noticing a small downturn in attendance he has already booked his stand for next year’s exhibition.
“I think that maybe there were 10% fewer people here this year, but it’s not too much,” he notes.
The show gave the design firm the opportunity to showcase its large bakery and foodservice equipment, something Zaidi says was “very important”.
“People see for themselves what they want to buy and at the same time we can provide them with all the assistance they need,” he explains.
Zaidi has been attending Gulfood since 2004 and is an example of how companies from across the region have grown with the exhibition.
“I started my first Gulfood with a 24 metre stall,” he explains. “Now I take more than 90 metres of space for my stand.”
Bigger and better
Gulfood took place over two convention centres this year, as speciality show Ingredients Middle East was incorporated into Gulfood.
Dubai Airport Expo provided an extra location, adding a large volume of participants, both exhibitors and visitors, to the show’s figures.
Gulfood’s Vossough says: “It was the first time we have actually used that venue and as a result the show grew by 20%.
“It was an extension of the Gulfood show on the food and drinks side and we also co-located Ingredients Middle East alongside as it is a better time of year to hold it.
“All of the companies exhibiting at the Airport Expo Dubai have been on our waiting lists for three or four years now,” explains Vossough.
DWTC’s Zeljkovic adds: “Basically we could not avoid doing something about the constant influx of enquiries we get.”
Vossough hit back at rumblings of discontent from some of the show’s exhibitors, claiming their poorly planned marketing campaigns and Gulfood preparations were probably the reason behind their grievances.
“At exhibitions you always get companies complaining that they didn’t do good business, but some of these companies did not do a proper market campaign,” Vossough says.
“They expect to come to the exhibition without doing anything and walking home with lots of business, but as we are all aware that simply does not happen.”
The comments came following claims from some exhibitors at Airport Expo Dubai that they were unaware they would be situated at the extended facility until two weeks prior to the event.
“It’s not true,” states Vossough. “Whatever company wants to book an exhibition slot, they pre-plan before and we communicated with these exhibitors from day one, whether it was about pricing or marketing.
“I think the visitors that went there meant serious business and they were there to speak to somebody.
“Perhaps they didn’t have the foothold they have at the main convention centre — but it was still a good exhibition.”