Imagine walking towards the trade stands at the ploughing, but it’s indoors. Now make that five times bigger, replace the farmers with buyers in suits and replace trade stands with food companies. You have arrived at SIAL Paris 2018, the biggest business to business food fair in the world this year.
There are 7,200 exhibitors from over 110 companies to entertain the 160,000 visitors. Products are presented by category in eight different halls.
Exhibitors on the Bord Bia stands include 16 Irish meat companies, four Irish dairy and dairy ingredients companies, seven prepared foods manufacturers and five confectionary companies. ABP and Dawn Meat Group have their own separate exhibitions.
“It’s mind-blowing the volume of business being done and the amount of companies showing their wares here,” said Barry O’Connor, a dairy farmer from Youghal, Co Cork.
“As you walk around you realise there’s an awful lot of people here buying and there’s a lot to play for. It’s certainly the place for our companies to be, showing what we have to offer.”
Despite the size of the hall and the strong product offerings from other milk processors, he said that on the Origin Green stand the “atmosphere and vitality of the place is encouraging, people want our product".
"Everybody competes on price and we have to be there, or thereabouts. But to get the margin we need to promote the grass-fed image,” O'Connor added.
The Bord Bia stand held a prominent position in the meat hall where competition from beef factories worldwide was strong.
“You’ve got visitors from all the main markets, SIAL is a particularly good one for the European market and is a good networking opportunity,” said Stephen Keating, CEO of the Kepak's frozen division.
“It’s about making that connection with your existing customers, put your brand out there. Ireland has a fantastic stage here under the Bord Bia banner, it has been phenomenal and we’re very proud to be associated with it.”
SIAL is a biannual event, making this the last one before Brexit. Inevitably it was a major point of conversation among exhibitors and buyers.
“We talk about the opportunities; China and the US, but nothing is going to replace the UK market tomorrow. It’s not about who has the best business plan, it’s who is the most agile,” Keating said.