See you all in Paris

?One of the world's leading trade shows, SIAL 2006, opens in Paris next week. Chloe Smith provides a preview

SIAL, the world's most important trade show according to many in the food industry, is fast approaching. Between 22 and 26 October, exhibitors from around the world will gather at the Paris-Nord Exhibition Centre to drum up export trade, show the latest industry innovations and make important business contacts.

EBLEX and HCC will be there, explaining to international traders why they should be interested in buying English and Welsh lamb and beef. Jean-Pierre Garnier, export manager at EBLEX has high hopes for the event. "The beauty of a large exhibition is the international presence," he says. "There are quite a lot of buyers for meat worldwide.

"We bring exporters with us - English and Welsh exporters - and they will be able to meet people there. The type of contacts you make can lead to long-term relationships. It's about contacts and communication."

It is also about buying and selling, and on a large scale. Organisers expect more than 136,000 visitors from five continents will come and meet the 5,200 exhibitors from the 100 countries due to attend. There is the potential to do a lot of business.

The meat industry is well represented. There will be 285 exhibitors showing fresh meat, with around 30,000 visitors (more than for any other food sector) flocking to see what the meat industry has to show and the world's three biggest meat exporters - the US, Brazil and the EU - will all be there.

Cured meats are also set to be a large area of interest, with 300 exhibitors. Speciality hams and delicatessen meats will be exhibited and there will be a strong Italian, Spanish and Belgian presence looking to develop export opportunities.

But not all visitors are there to drum up export opportunities. Retailers come to Sial to find the products that will fill their shelves in the future, catering companies to build their menus, while wholesalers and importers come to find new products and manufacturers to find the technology that will help their businesses in the future. The trends and innovations area is where canny visitors go to get an insight into tomorrow's market and look at exhibitors' new products. Manufacturers, distributors and caterers will be treated to demonstrations of consumer behaviour and will be shown how to use that behaviour to increase awareness of their products. This year is the 10th birthday of the trends and innovations area - a place where questions such as 'How will our eating habits change?' and 'What are consumers worldwide looking for?' can be asked and answered, and an area which, according to the organisers of SIAL, three quarters of all visitors pay a visit to.

One trend that shows no sign of dying away is consumers' interest in health, and nutrition is high on the agenda this year. Since the last show in 2004, the topic has gathered momentum at an incredible pace, thanks to campaigners such as Jamie Oliver and a more general concern in the Western world about food and health. In 2004, just 20% of visitors were specifically interested in nutrition-related topics at the show. This year "nutrition is omnipresent" according to SIAL's organisers. Exhibitors who wish to raise the profile of their nutritious products can display in the Nutrition Village; and the Nutrition Forum will draw attention to the attitudes and expectations of consumers worldwide towards nutrition and look at the way the food industry can find solutions, not only from food companies, but through food authorities and governments as well.

There will be a separate ingredients and additives centre where nutritionists and engineers will be on hand to advise visitors how to find the ideal ingredients and additives for their products.

Growing interest in nutrition affects not just manufacturers, but catering companies as well. A brand new area is opening this year called Cuisine du SIAL, where cooking demonstrations will provide for the 19,000 catering professionals who are expected to attend.

To help catering visitors find their way around the exhibition SIAL has produced the catering visitor's guide, in partnership with Néorestauration. Half of SIAL's exhibitors will be presenting a catering offer, which will be highlighted with signs. The bilingual guide, 25,000 copies of which will be distributed, is designed to help catering visitors make the most of the show. It includes key figures for the catering market and detailed information about exhibitors offering catering products, who are listed by hall and by sector, along with their new products.

There will also be a programme of more than 20 talks and round-table discussions during the five days of the exhibition. These include a number of catering themes: nutrition and institutional catering; children and nutritional education, which will feature examples of successful experiments in schools; an update on commercial catering and nutrition; and school catering and nutrition, of particular interest to British caterers looking to supply healthy school meals, which will cover the roles and constraints of the key players such as food manufacturers, catering companies and distributors.

This may give some idea of the scale of the show, which is, quite simply enormous. SIAL covers over 200,000 sq ft, so to help visitors find their way around there are 15 theme trails, which follow specific interests through the exhibition. This year's theme trails are: organic products; chocolate; kosher foods; water; festive products; products for vending machines; cheese; halal foods; olive oil; fruit and vegetables from around the world; seafood; tea and herbal teas; sandwiches and snacking; soups from around the world; and nutritional products, health foods and food supplements.

This gives some illustration as to just how large the exhibition is and the variety of visitors from different sectors of the food industry it attracts. But for the EBLEX and HCC exhibitors, it is about one thing: promoting lamb and beef.

"It's about marketing," says Garnier, who reveals the stand will have an English pub theme. "We're selling the image of the product - traditional," he says.

Beef exports may be strong at the moment, but Garnier is not complacent and acknowledges there are problems: "The issue we have is English beef is extremely dear." Lamb, he says, is not cheap either, but it is steady business, and he will be looking to push further into the export market with both meats.

"It's part of the strategy to get English export sales. The message is: we're back," he says. "We're back with a vengeance."

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