Although doom-mongerers predicted that this year’s show would attract fewer visitors than for previous years, Gulfood 2009 proved them wrong. Ben Watts assesses the success of the exhibition for visitors, exhibitors and organisers alike

The region’s leading food show sailed back into town last month for its biggest ever edition, this time adding an additional venue and plenty of new exhibitors to boot.

And to the delight of both exhibitors and visitors, the daddy of Middle East food shows proved once again why Dubai remains the food and beverage industry’s regional hub.

Satisfied customers

Rastelli owner Anthony Rastelli, who was exhibiting in Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre’s (DICEC) Sheikh Maktoum Hall this year, says Gulfood 2009 was “one of the more successful shows” for the Halal food company, adding that there had been no particular impact from the economic climate.

“We have not seen the global downturn have too much effect on the market we are in and we have had a focus here for the last six years,” adds Rastelli.

“Our booth in the USA Pavilion was a lot bigger then those around us — everybody else has downsized, but we expanded our stand.”

The New Jersey-based firm broke with convention by avoiding the style used across the USA Pavilion in an attempt to garner more attention from potential clients.

“We had the US flag in various places around the stand, but we wanted the roof of the stand left off in order to give it a different appearance, rather than being boxed in,” comments Rastelli.

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The company brought with them the president of Halal Transactions of Omaha Dr Amad Al-Absy, to highlight its commitment to Halal procedures.

Al-Absy explains: “Many of our customers, like Rastelli, are concerned about exporting to the Middle East and we can tell these customers that the product is Halal all the way from farm to fork.”

Another satisfied company, also exhibiting in the convention centre’s Sheikh Maktoum Hall, was Austrian coffee giant Julius Meinl, whose regional distribution partners Merchant Star International had constructed a stylish coffee house stand in the Austrian Pavillion.

Merchant Star International managing director Ali Kadkhodaei comments: “The response we had has been excellent and it was the perfect opportunity to meet with our current regional clients.”

Last year’s Gulfood was the first time Julius Meinl had a presence at the show, but Kadkhodaei it gave the company “a chance to meet many potential distributors across the whole region for Meinl”.

“The Hotel Show 2009 in May (also at DICEC) is a chance to meet target clients, but we get to meet many F&B managers and decision-makers at Gulfood.

“This year it is approximately the same crowd as last year, however I think the food industry in general has not been as badly hit by the economic crisis as perhaps the financial sector or real estate sector,” he explains.

Julius Meinl chief executive Marcel Loeffler, who was also present at the show supporting Merchant Star International, said he had been impressed by the layout of the stand.

“As a company we try to bridge our traditional routes and contemporary values and that’s why I was so happy with the set-up,” says Loeffler.

“I was pleased not only with the way it was designed but also the reaction of the customers and stand visitors.”

Black Rock Grill managing director Peter Hatter was also impressed by this year’s show. “It was very good; we got five orders away across the first two days and although the third day was a little quieter, we generated a lot of interest,” he explains.

Hatter adds that the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism has become his latest client, thanks to Gulfood.