Sabine Schommer, ISM Director: Indulgence Will Be with Us Forever

The ISM trade show has just celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and on this occasion, Sabine Schommer, ISM Director, granted us an interview where she reflected on the current state of the industry and on the long-term perspectives of the fair and of consumer tastes.

How does this anniversary edition compare to previous ones in terms of visitor and exhibitor numbers?

We have a considerable growth in exhibitor figures. This year’s edition had 7.5% more exhibitors than last year, so we have 120 more companies that joined us, and we feel very enthusiastic about that. The atmosphere in the halls is very dynamic with many celebrations around the jubilee.

During the ISM Awards night, you acknowledged the companies that have been with you every year since the first edition 50 years ago. How many such companies are there?

There are 29 companies with 50 participations, and because the sweets businesses are family-owned – a big part of them are small and medium-sized enterprises – you can see the continuity.

Some of the present exhibitors have already been attending ISM as children together with their parents at their booths so it’s really one big family.

What is the return rate for exhibitors and what benefits do you offer those that return? What can newcomers expect?

The return rate is very high. About 75% of the exhibitors are coming every year and we also have companies that maybe decide to come every two years, but overall, there is a stable number of exhibitors who are always there. Among the benefits that we offer them is the possibility to rebook their previous location if they apply early, before April 30.

Many of those established companies do this because it is easy for visitors to find them. They don’t have to look at the floor plan, they just go where they have been going in previous years.

Of course, if they want to change their position, then we always give priority to companies that have been with us for a very long time. We do treat them preferentially but we try to be very fair, and if there’s a good location then we try to move everybody a bit forward.

For the new exhibitors, we have two special areas – one is the startup area which is a special section for companies that have been founded within the last five years. There is a special participation package for them where we do everything from setting up the booth to marketing, to press releases, and they only have to come and put their product on the shelf. We also invite the startups to come to the expert stage and present the enterprise and their product to the trade visitors as a pitch. There’s also a start-up matchmaking event where we invite VIP buyers from very big companies, and it’s a bit like speed-dating.

For companies that are new at ISM, but not newly founded, we have the newcomer area. It’s heavily promoted on our website with an introduction of every company, we mention them in the press releases and we include them in our visitor newsletters.

It’s also turnkey participation – they just have to bring their merchandise. And it’s a very efficient way to just try and see whether ISM is suitable for their business or not.

How would you say the confectionery scene in Germany has evolved over the past 50 years, as reflected by the trade show participation?

Well, for example, ISM won an award that was handed by the International Sweets Wholesalers Association and in their speech, they pointed out that ISM was a key factor of success for the German sweets industry.

The German sweets industry is an export champion of the world because half of what it produces goes into export, volume-wise. And they were kind enough to acknowledge that ISM was the place that helped the Germans go international because this is where they’ve met their international clients. And this is what we want to do for every exhibitor at ISM.

The UK is in the top three countries that are exhibiting at ISM. What do you think the Brexit impact will be on the trade show and on the industry?

Over the last three years, I witnessed the number of exhibitors from the UK steadily going down. Three years ago they were at 110 companies, last year they were at 94, this year they are at 85.

I can’t tell what Brexit will bring, and the companies themselves, they can not tell either. Some are not sure about whether they can still serve their clients and they say ‘okay let’s first wait and see what is going to happen’. And perhaps participating in an international fair right now makes no sense, because there are so many unknowns.

Those that are here, though, have their clients and are confident that they will find a way to cooperate in the future. Their clients will still go for English fudge and for Scottish shortbread, and they don’t want to miss it.

I think, as usual, business will find its way. There is a certain feeling of insecurity at the moment but I think it will soon pass.

One of the main trends this year is the focus on plant-based ingredients. How do you see this going in the future and what impact do you think it will have on sustainability?

I think ‘plant-based’ is a huge trend right now. The number of vegetarians and vegans and also flexitarians in Europe I think is growing rapidly. The younger generation, in particular, is very conscious of this, and in every country, all over the world, I think people are very much aware that we have to change something.

Every one of us, if you’re conscious about what you buy, you have an impact, and this impact is already being felt by the industry. They go with it and they also do what they can to reduce packaging and recycle. The driving force is the pressure that comes from the consumer, but the industry is also leading by research and innovations.

Can you make any predictions on where the industry will be another 50 years from now?

For the 100th anniversary, I don’t see us eating things like astronaut paste. I think we will still indulge in chocolate and in biscuits and we will still be fond of flavors of maybe exotic mixes and new tastes.

We don’t need sweets to live but we need pleasure in our lives, like Patrick (n.a. Poirrier) said in his speech. Sweets are the treat that you give yourself. You take a break from your daily routine and you just take five minutes for yourself and you have some chocolate or a nice cookie or something like that. And I think this is so human that we will keep this forever. The products will change and I think the offer in 50 years will not be the same as we have today. We have some creative exhibitors in Hall 5, in our trendy area, that make bars from crickets. And they taste nice. I’d rather have chocolate, but the young generation is different. They are more conscious about their health about their calorie intake and they are more curious about alternatives.

So I think the offer of sweets and snacks will become even richer than it is today and maybe we will see more trends also coming from abroad, maybe from Asia, we will see more influences from all over the world, more exotic tastes maybe, but what will continue is the indulgence. The pleasure. And this is reassuring to know.

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