Mark Napier, exhibitions director at Dubai World Trade Centre, said the show had welcomed 1,500 exhibitors from 60 countries, and as of the second day, was set to comfortably surpass 30,000 visitors, both figures up around 20% from the 2014 edition of the event.
Napier said business was brisk at the show: “Most of the exhibitors I’ve talked to around the exhibition have said what’s unusual about this event is that people are coming in with a very fixed idea of what they need – I need this line, I have this production challenge I need to solve. This is an immediate and almost instantaneous purchase, which is very unusual for a machinery and equipment event – for it to be almost transactional in nature.”
From the show director’s perspective, the big themes this year were around bakery, meat, beverages and packing innovation. On the ingredients side, despite Napier’s belief this would be the year of organic, he said he had seen more interest in free-from, including gluten-free.
Carving out a niche
Although Gulfood Manufacturing runs concurrently with longer-running events Sweets & Snacks ME, Seafex and the Speciality Foods Festival, Napier was clear the show is entirely separate from its neighbours.
“Gulfood Manufacturing is its own event, with its own brand, its own supply community, its own value chain. In one of the smaller halls there’s a conference running on room management – there’s no connection there with Gulfood Manufacturing,” he said.
“The fact that Sweets, Speciality and Seafood are running concurrently is a happy coincidence – but you don’t really see the visitors there coming into here,” Napier added.
He said the compartmentalisation, which has seen Gulfood become focused only on finished food products, and machinery and ingredients manufacturers moved to the Autumn event, has gone down well with all parties.
“The exhibitors in Gulfood tell me they like the fact Gulfood Manufacturing is separate – because they’re the food producers that come to Gulfood to sell their brands, but they also need to make the stuff. They like to visit manufacturing, where they can go around and visit the show, improve efficiency, output and so on,” said Napier.
Regional downturn has silver lining
While the region’s problems, from conflicts in Syria and Yemen to the depressed price of oil, loomed over the show, causing some exhibitors to suggest customers were scaling back planned investments, Napier said he still saw significant spending. He suggested even in the midst of a downturn, there was business to be done.
“You have to be aware of oil prices, and the impact that’s having on heavily subsidised economies – but that has a positive benefit as well. People are looking for automation, for cost efficiencies, lean manufacturing, new operational plant – they’re looking for competitive advantage,” said Napier.
“Maybe they’re not able to produce in an area that’s traditionally been home for them – so they’re going to relocate their experience and production know-how, and they’ll need the equipment to go with it. Whenever there’s changing circumstances, it does create opportunities, when the market demand is there – and the market demand is still there,” he added.