The role of the Food Expo
Anna Healy Fenton
The recent massive TDC-organised annual Food Expo at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai is an unusual beast, bringing together an eclectic mix of 1,520 stands and 410,000 people over five days. Retail and wholesale suppliers and buyers from all over the world cram in, along with the general public. It’s not for the faint-hearted, with shoppers and trolleys piling into the melee for free samples and discounted food, while the poor trade folks try to do business. The public is supposed to be excluded from the trade floors for the first two days, but determined sample-hunters manage to invade regardless.
Every imaginable food item
The show includes every imaginable kind of packaged, frozen and canned food, along with gourmet items, tea, beer, wine and health products. But does this huge fair really do what it says on the packet? Organiser the TDC were happy, but exhibitor views were mixed. When it came to trends, the TDC noted that the popularity of high-end food, such as Spanish Iberico ham, was soaring locally, mirrored by the expanding Gourmet Zone, health food products and some new crossover items.
Gourmet hall exhibitor Silvain Mattras from Maison Argaud was very happy with the response to his French duck foie gras and pates. But Shirley Man, promoting wine and fine food, had some objective comments. Her business, Headtable Company in Wan Chai, came to the Expo for brand-building and exposure for her shop. Her expectations were met: “seven out of 10.” Her target was reached, with relatively higher volume of business within a short period of time. But she expected customers with deeper pockets at the gourmet hall. “Customers were rather cautious when it came to spending on gourmet food, or simply came for free food tasting.”
When it came to serious buyer interest, she was disappointed. “It could be because the general public are willing to compromise food quality with the increased food cost. People are less eager to spend on good quality and high priced items. As a result, food with artificial ingredients and imitated food at lower price could be more appealing to them.”
Fro next year, she urges the TDC to invite professionals with higher spending power and corporate clients. She also wants them to spruce up the celebrity chef demonstrations, promoting them with digital displays at the entrances.
More security cameras
Conchi Martinez, sales director of CM Delifoods – a Spanish ham cutting and olive oil tasting specialist, was happy with the amount of serious interest and will come back next year. But she thought the TDC could do more to assist exhibitors. “The cleaner services were not good. The security services had no cameras and some body removed my products from inside my cabinet. It could be better security next time.”
Alan Aston from Aston Gold Estate in Australia was another first-timer, aiming to find distributors for Hong Kong and China for his lychee cider and spirit, “Lychee Gold.” He had lots of interest, “but as yet we do not have anybody on board, though the interest from buyers seemed serious.”
Aston manned his booth full time and so could not visit other exhibitors during the three days the trade section was open. He returned on day four to see the rest of the show, but was refused entry. He was not a happy bunny. “Having spent a total of Aus$10,000 and worked full time and then to be refused entry, I was pissed off and threw my exhibitors card in the bin with disgust. I may not return again next year.”
TDC reports good response
For its part, the TDC itself garnered plenty of positive feedback from the 19,600 trade buyers. Packaged food distributor Stephanie Lim from Li An Foodstuff Singapore was pleased with the number of new suppliers. “That is the reason why I came here and I am satisfied.” She applauded “the warm introduction by HKTDC’s staff so that we could make the connections easily.” Tony Ho, Café de Coral’s Hong Kong purchasing officer, said the Expo and TDC staff had helpfully pre-screened suppliers and set up time-saving appointments. He particularly liked the TDC’s guided tours for buyers.
Something for everyone
The purpose of the Expo seems deliberately mixed. The TDC describes the fair as a place to experiment and engage with consumers and trade alike, trying out new products to see what might gather interest - from buyers and consumers. “It also helps boost up the retail sales and facilitate trading businesses for the trade.”
It was hard to identify specific trends in the public and gourmet halls, with the punters diving in wherever there was free or cheap food.
On the trade side, suppliers noted keen interest from mainland China and Japan-based fresh produce importers, seeking food from places with a squeaky-clean image like Guam and California. Calvin Holloway from Guam’s Warehouse Pacific, specialists in fruit and mango products and beef jerky, said it caught them off guard. But the TDC did not think the amount of interest in Guam produce was significant. “The good interest they experienced was helped by the fact that this was their first time at the fair,” the organiser said. They added that Chinese importers were not specifically seeking to source food from elsewhere, they were just showing more interest in international foods.
It may be politically incorrect to say it, but until confidence in China and Japan’s home-grown food improves, it would be remarkable if importers were not out hunting for overseas suppliers to meet domestic demand.