SIAL Montreal a big success
Despite global uncertainty, show attracts record participants, exhibitors

When the European SIAL group decided to license a Montreal version of its food and beverage show two years ago, the organization took a big risk. With competition from similar events such as Chicago's FMI Show and New York's Fancy Food Show, it was by no means certain that there was room for another.

But by all accounts the most recent version of the biennial event, which took place at Montreal's Palais des Congrès in early April was a big success. The show attracted a record 13,345 visitors from 77 countries. And that doesn't include the 5,000 people manning the booths.

"We are very happy with our turnout," said Alain Bellefeuille, general manager of SIAL Montreal. "With all the bad news on television earlier this year, we were worried that people would not want to travel. But they came anyway."

Participants saw a host of new products and innovations on display by vendors from all four corners of the globe. Show organizers were counting on this international outlook to distinguish SIAL Montreal from its competitors.

"FMI is huge, but it's mostly about North Americans selling to North Americans," said Bellefeuille. "We want to broaden that spectrum to include countries from outside the continent."

Cutting through the mass of products on display at the 686 booths was no easy task. The show took up about 200,000 square feet of floor space with 88,000 square feet for the booths. Just browsing the aisles took half a day. And that doesn't include time spent talking business, shooting the breeze with old friends and attending the various presentations.

Most of what's new fell into three categories: substitute products, ready-to-eat and natural foods. One company that drew considerable attention was Mountain Meadow Food Processing of Alberta, whose president Joe St. Denis was one hand showing its peanut-butter substitute NoNuts.

The NoNuts spread is made from peas and tastes almost exactly like peanut butter. The product is safe to eat for peanut allergy sufferers, and it could not have hit the shelves at a better time.

Potentially mortal peanut allergies are growing by leaps and bounds in North America. St. Denis estimates that there are 4 million sufferers in North America alone. But the market is much bigger than that.

Because of the peanut butter's potentially lethal impact, if there is one allergy sufferer in the family, parents usually bar everyone from eating it.

It takes only minute quantities to set off an allergic reaction for example through an accidental contact with a dirty knife. As a result, schools are increasingly taking a similar tact, opening up big opportunities for NoNuts.

St-Denis, who invented the product in his kitchen, was thrilled about his experience at SIAL Montreal. "Absolutely excellent," said St-Denis. "We met many people and got some real results. We had been talking to Metro and at the show they told us that we were gong to be listed with them."

Another exhibitor was New York based Rao's Specialty Foods Inc, which had visitors raving about their line of pasta sauces. "The best sauces ever," said one. Rao's homemade sauces originated from the company's New York restaurant, and the company is trying to extend the brand into the retail sphere.

Typical of the event's international flavor was Agricola Casearia Lupara, an Italian cheese processor which was showing its buffalo cheese, which they claim has a longer shelf life than regular cheese

Health foods manufacturer Les Mets du Commensal's president Lise Bilodeau was also on hand showing off the company's new packaging. Les Mets du Commensal markets a line of vegetarian GMO-free prepared foods and soups, which have long been a big hit in Quebec where the company also operates a small restaurant chain.

Late last year, in a bid to break into the Ontario market, the company completely redesigned and re-branded its line, an effort which garnered them several prizes at the recent Packaging Association of Canada awards. The redesign also generated concrete results.

"Everyone is interested in health food now, especially when it's certified organic," said Lise Bilodeau, the Montreal based company's president. "We met a lot of people who loved our new products and new look. And we closed an important deal with a California company."

Canada's aboriginal communities were also well represented with a booth organized by the First Peoples Business Association that showcased the products from eight companies ranging from blueberries to canned fish to herbal teas.

SIAL Montreal's organizers are now waiting for the results of detailed polling they conducted to determine just exactly who those 13,345 visitors were. There was a feeling among those interviewed that not only had the number of guests increased, but the quality as well, with companies sending more senior executives. The polling information is important to both exhibitors and buyers because the more senior decision-makers attend, the better chances there are that the parties will close a deal.

Unfortunately for Bellefeuille, he won't be getting any rest soon. "You would think that when the show is over we would just relax," he laughed. "But we are already thinking about April 2005."


Photo: Please use photos from SIAL, from the Pasta sauce and from Les Mets du Commensal products.



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