ISM – A Little Bigger, A Lot Better
By James Echeandia
The 36th annual confectionery extravaganza in Cologne, Germany, was especially impressive this year.
The 36th Annual ISM — International Sweets and Biscuits Fair — held in Cologne, Germany, was successful in many ways. A record number of finished goods exhibitors … 1,634 in all, 80 percent from outside Germany … settled into exhibit space, which was new last year and the subject of much commentary then. Now that same space has acquired familiarity and has the feel of home, and everyone is happier. The 36th Edition of ISM utilized just less than 1.2 million square feet of exhibit space (which may account for the two people we spied touring the show on push scooters!) in the Eastern Halls of the Fair Grounds. According to the organizers, ISM registered some 34,000 trade visitors from over 150 countries, and 60 percent of visitors were from outside of Germany. It was said that there was an increase in buyers from Eastern Europe, Central and South America, North Africa and the Middle East, while visitors from East Asia decreased.
U.S.A. pavilion a big hit
A newly conceived and designed U.S.A. pavilion, in a better location this time around, was a hit with U.S. exhibitors and trade customers alike. Organized by the National Confectioners Association, the U.S.A. pavilion had a more spacious, open and better organized appearance. More than two dozen U.S. producers reached out to the world in a U.S.A. Pavilion more in tune with selling the global way. Sunday, January 29, was a successful opening day for ISM, and Sunday evening saw the largest-ever gathering of U.S. product suppliers and customers ever at ISM, at an event organized by Confectioner and Candy Industry magazines and the National Confectioners Association. The 300 revelers from many nations enjoyed two and one-half hours of food, fun and networking at Holtmann’s Café in the Ludwig Modern Art Museum.  
Walking the show
Many themes were evident at ISM. This is a World Cup year for the round ball version of football played by most of the world, and as sort of a global Super Bowl for soccer, World Cup attracts product concepts and endorsements from all product segments. The 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth (Happy Birthday, Wolfgang Amadeus!) created a certain amount of stir, especially among Austrian producers.
Among the more sustaining themes, it can truly be said that the emergence of dark chocolate is a global trend evidenced by a range of products on display from assortments to molded bars (99 percent cocoa bean!) to Easter bunnies. Also in the chocolate realm we saw the continuation of the single source and flavor-modified chocolates trend, such as pumpkin seed oil, celery, balsamic vinegar, olives, mustard and coffee, along with pepperoni and chili pepper! Interestingly, the positive benefits which have been discovered for chocolate and made big headlines in the United States did not appear to make much of a ripple at ISM … or perhaps they’ve known it all along.
On the non-chocolate confectionery side, reduced-sugar and sugar-free products were everywhere, reaching down into the smallest markets. Functional products in the non-chocolate arena were also abundant including “safe for teeth,” tooth whitening and other dental claims. In this respect, Wrigley is an engine driving the world’s markets. There were also products said to reduce booze breath and cure hangovers. Get ready for another go-around on milk-flavoring straws; Sipahh plastic drinking straws from Unistraw International Pty Ltd, Mascot, Australia, add flavor to milk drinks via taste pearls that release the flavor. According to the ISM’s organizers, “coconut … made a triumphant comeback in all product categories.” This may have been a ripple, but not a trend that we could see. What we did see from Sherwood Brands, Rockville, Md. was Zypperz, a Zip-up lollipop! The “lolly with the magical zip-stick” is offered in vending machine capsules and Easter Egg capsules. You have to see it to believe it.
Although difficult to quantify, a definite trend to higher quality confections the world over was evident at the show. For example there is now a Confectionery Club ‘Quality Seal’ available under certain conditions to German specialist producers which may be used on packaging to signify superior quality. In one part of Germany, local box chocolate producers vie with each other for prizes voted on by consumers in a blind test every month.
National pavilions have always been a fixture at the ISM. The English, French, Belgian (both National and Walloon), Spanish, Swiss and Dutch pavilions continued their long traditions. New or newly enlarged were national pavilions from Mexico, Brazil and the Turkish pavilion (“TURKISSSWEET”) won special praise from many attendees.
Wrigley, as usual, seemed to be the busiest booth at the fair. More than a “meet and greet” exercise, the booth promotes the latest Wrigley products and marketing thrusts in a direct and focused way. Many of Wrigley’s newly acquired candy items were on display, making their global debut.
Among individual exhibitors, perhaps the biggest surprise was Chupa Chups returning with a mega-booth reminiscent of days past. “We let outsiders run the company for the last few years, and now we have taken the management back to ourselves,” said Xavier Bernat, a member of the owning family.
The U.S. pavilion effectively presented about 27 domestic producers, with Hershey and Jelly Belly as the largest exhibitors. (Jelly Belly also had a separate free-standing exhibit area to better serve its growing international clientele.) The Hershey booth in the pavilion featured global brands made in Brazil and Dubai as well as the U.S.A. Some brands would be familiar to U.S. consumers, while others would not. There was virtually no U.S.-oriented product on display and judging by the product mix, Hershey’s major target markets are the Middle East and Asia.
Just Born had a good chunk of real estate and a lot of people there to promote its brands. According to Matt Petronio, vice president of customer and brand development at Just Born, “This show has become an important selling venue for us, and it is growing in importance.”
The nice folks at Adams and Brooks had a couple of new “for the show” items. According to John Brooks Jr., business development manager, the company is starting to see payoff from investing several years at the show. “You build leads over the years, and then they eventually order a container. But it takes time,” Brooks Jr. concluded. There were also about a dozen U.S. suppliers selling at ISM but not as part of the U.S.A. Pavilion for various reasons.
Promise delivered
It can truly be said that the promise of the 2005 ISM came true in 2006. The four days of ‘practice’ during last year’s ISM enabled many exhibitors to perfect their presentations, and there were some stunning booths indeed. The wide-open aisles, column-free exhibit spaces and truly beautiful public eating and assembly spaces could be appreciated. Even the weather smiled on this year’s event — it was an ISM without rain, sunny — albeit cold.
KoelnMesse, the organizers of the ISM aren’t relaxing. The former Rhine ISM exhibition halls are in the process of demolition or redesign to become the new home for RTL Television and Radio. Since last ISM, KoelnMesse built new exhibition halls of the highest standard to replace the Rhine Halls. Eventually, German Rail will have a train station inside the fair grounds. It is apparent that whatever the global candy industry needs in any sector, KoelnMesse is ready, willing and able to support the industry. n
A new Fair for Cologne was born on Tuesday, January 31. Pro Sweets launched with 229 suppliers to the sweets industry, from 27 countries. The new event half-filled one of the cavernous exhibition floors at the Cologne Fair Grounds. The combined exhibit of raw materials, packaging materials and all manner of production machinery and supplies (in its own separate hall, mind you) simultaneously with the finished sweets products that are the stock in trade of ISM made so much sense that many observers wondered why it took so long to happen. Every third year will be a non-ProSweets year, but otherwise the four-day event will be held annually, with two or three days held in parallel to ISM.
The global industry reception held at Holtmann’s Café in the Museum Ludwig, in the shadow of the Cologne Cathedral, on Sunday evening, January 29, was a big success by any standard. Over 300 people, including buyers from all over the world, attended the gathering to mingle and mix with the U.S.A. pavilion exhibitors.
The event was organized by the National Confectioners Association and Confectioner Magazine, along with Confectioner’s sister magazine Candy Industry. The gathering was hosted by: AarhusKarlshamn USA, Adams & Brooks, Inc., Bell Flavors & Fragrances, The Hershey Company, Jelly Belly Candy Company and Palatinit.
A great time was had by all!