Hosted in Cologne, Germany, Anuga, the world’s largest food fair for the foodservice market, boasted 160,000 trade visitors from 192 countries and over 280,000 sqm of exhibits. Cafe Asia director Amit Bhavsar sat down to give his thoughts on the show and his plans for 2016.
Cafe Asia: Amit, have you attended Anuga before?
Amit Bhavsar: Yes; we attended in 2009, so this is our first return in six years. In 2009 we were a very different company. A lot of our products were not geared towards convenience, so this year we turned up with a range that’s fully oven-ready or microwaveable and very much focussed on convenience for the consumer.
The other major change between 2009 and 2015 is that Cafe Asia didn’t exist in 2009. Back then we went to Anuga under our mother brand, UPB, which my parents had started many, many years ago and which had continued up until last year. Had anyone seen us in 2009, they wouldn’t have recognised us where we are now. In many ways, in 2015 we are a completely different company.
CA: With that in mind, what was your focus for the trade show this year?
AB: I think Cafe Asia has given us a platform to talk to bigger retailers and aim our lines towards the mass public, which requires quality, good price and convenience. With people being short on time and expecting to be able to microwave or oven-cook most products, that’s what most retailers are geared towards. Taking our range to Anuga was about showing how all our lines have now got that convenience factor.
Also, it was the first time we had taken Cafe Asia to Germany, so it was important to get feedback from wider European consumers, food manufacturers and distributors on what they thought about us. The general consensus was that people seemed to understand Cafe Asia – through the brand and the name they got what we were about straight away.
CA: A useful experience, then.
AB: Very useful. In many ways, these trade shows are a great way of assessing whether you’re going in the right direction, because you’ll know immediately [people’s opinions] based on feedback. At an industry show, you’re meeting decision-makers and owners of businesses, food buyers and purchase directors.
So when you get positive feedback on your products and your brand and what you do as a company, it’s a huge reinforcement. It’s really quite positive.
CA: With that in mind, which aspects of the conference did you enjoy most?
AB: You get to meet interesting people. There’s a great buzz; you never know who you’re going to meet or what conversations you’re going to have and who with. I enjoy engaging with food industry professionals and visitors – finding out where they’re from and what their interests are. And whether they like our products!
CA: Did anyone stand out on this trip? Did you make it to any of the seminars?
AB: I didn’t manage any seminars, and the main reason for that is that our stand was so busy. Did anyone particularly stand out? One of the main growth areas for Cafe Asia now is going to be export. The brand and branding have been geared towards making us a food brand that not only resonates with UK customers, but also with European buyers and customers. This year, in October, we launched a range of products into Nestlé stores in Denmark; and we now have sales in various parts of Europe such as Malta, Cyprus, Spain and France. It’s great meeting European consumers and buyers, and we had some really interesting conversations with people from various parts of Europe.
What it goes to show is that for Indian food and the wider Asian foods – Japanese, Thai, Chinese – Europeans have now really picked up on and embraced the flavours. People are travelling more. They’re sampling these flavours when they’re away in various parts of the world and want to buy authentic, high-quality Asian foods when they return. The UK is the most mature market for Asian and ethnic culture, but the other European countries are catching up very fast. When you’re speaking to buyers from Finland who want to take Asian foods to their country, it does raise your eyebrows and make you realise that these flavours are really well accepted and really well liked. People aren’t shying away from them any more.
CA: Having done trade shows since 2001, do you have any tips for first-time exhibitors?
AB: My tip would be to do a lot of homework in advance. Know exactly why you’re going to exhibit; make sure you’re taking products that are going to be of interest. You’ve got to go to a food show with something new and exciting. Make sure you’ve got full confidence in what you’re taking and do your homework in advance.
Chef of the Year: Just one of a number of events that took place at Anuga 2015.
Get as many contacts as possible while you’re at the show. Make you sure you work new connections at the show and afterwards: it’s so important to engage with people. We’ve picked up a lot of our main customers over the last 10 years at food shows and the one thing that really stands out for me is that you can speak to someone over the phone or send them ten emails, but nothing compares to that five-minute conversation face-to-face where you can truly engage with someone and understand what they want. The personal connection – the human connection – is invaluable.
CA: Final question: have you got your eye on any trade shows for next year?
AB: I’m not sure. We did SIAL Paris in 2014 and Anuga in Germany in 2015 and in many ways, next year is going to be a year to consolidate. We’ve got a huge number of new products coming on-stream, including a range of Japanese lines and a range of authentic Chinese street foods early next year.
I really enjoy tradeshows but you need a very good reason to do them. They’re extremely time-consuming in terms of manpower; a lot of work goes in and they are not cheap. They’re a big commitment in terms of marketing spend. In 2016 the main show will be SIAL in Paris. Considering how much success we had there in 2014, I think that’s a good reason for going back.
Anuga 2015 by Gastronomie in Metz, via Flickr. Creative Commons license 2.0
Koch des Jahres 2015 by Gastronomie in Metz, via Flickr. Creative Commons license 2.0