From the approach, it’s clear this is a different show – there is no sense of too much exhibition crammed into too little space, no random stands bulging out of the sides and into the surrounding area. And Dubai’s public transport system certainly doesn’t creak as it does in the spring, with the Metro doing its best impression of the Tokyo subway.
But inside the halls, what from the raw numbers might seem to be a sleepy show – Gulfood Manufacturing has only around a third of the visitors of the February show – is anything but. In the equipment sections the noise of all but the loudest machines is drowned out by the crowd – and in stands like Tetra Pak’s, the crowds look more like those at the bar during half-time at a football match.
The hordes of Chinese me-too manufacturers are all present and correct, and in the case of one, enthusiastically spilling out roasted sunflower seeds into the aisle. But the interest is clearly with their pricier counterparts elsewhere, with far more bustle around Turkish, Japanese, European and American suppliers.
Functional ingredients frenzy
Over the way in the ingredients halls, the crowds are often smaller – but far more intense. While more than a few equipment manufacturers could often be seen sitting alone, almost all the ingredients suppliers look to be in constant demand – in the case of some, it seems impossible to attract anyone’s attention short of using physical force.
Sweeteners, flavourings, colours and other functional ingredients are of by far the most interest, with raw ingredients still in demand, but not driving the same intense hunger as their more chemically contrived counterparts. But judging by the crowded aisles, Indian nut producers seem to be doing brisk business.
Sweet smell of fishy success
Away from Gulfood Manufacturing, the speciality shows also had a decent showing, and are clearly attracting a different audience. Amid the crowds drawn in by the pizza-making contest in the hope of a free slice, the distinctly fishy smell of Seafex mingled with the headier aromas of the Speciality Food Festival, and, further up the hall, the sugary tang of Sweets & Snacks.
Asian firms dominated the seafood show, although the UAE’s first farmed sea bream – billed as “Royal Sea Bream” – attracted a lot of attention, along with several of the region’s other aquaculture projects.
In speciality foods, the Iran pavilion was one of the busiest, not only from buyers looking at Iranian products, but also from international firms considering their entry into Iran, following the theoretically-imminent lifting of sanctions.
And among the sweets and snacks, chocolate and sugary candies dominated – perhaps reinforcing the observation from some ingredients producers that while the Middle East is interested in healthier products in a theoretical way, the widespread demand is not quite there yet.