Exclusive: ISM director reveals key confectionery event plans are full-steam ahead

This year’s ISM may be returning to Cologne against a backdrop of combined energy and ingredient inflation issues, yet its organisers remain confident of staging another show to remember. Editor Neill Barston speaks to event director Sabine Schommer on the prospects for ISM and its partner show, ProSweets

Drawing an array of visitors from across Europe and around the world, ISM has traditionally proved a dynamic, eclectic and engaging platform for the global confectionery sector (see our exclusive video interview with director Sabine Schommer here).

This year’s event is shaping up to be no exception to that, despite the continuing issues facing the wider industry that have impacted on global trading environments.

From the lingering impact of the pandemic, ingredients price rises, through to the impact of the war in Ukraine, these combined factors have made events notably complex for many in 2023. However, despite such challenges, the organising team behind this year’s ISM remain optimistic that it will once again offer a valuable platform for the industry, as it seeks to re-balance after a period of several years of pandemic disruption. The event certainly has a track record for success, having started out way back in 1971, and is now beyond its 50th anniversary.

It is expected to place a considerable spotlight on latest major global product innovations. Having covered the show numerous times, it continues to be regarded highly within the wider confectionery community in terms of its sheer sense of spectacle through demonstrations and vibrant stand displays, as well as its ability to promote product breakthroughs with its annual awards.

As we have reported recently, the global health and wellness agenda witnessed during the pandemic, led by the drive for plant-based offerings, has very much entered the confectionery space. Consequently, it is highly likely to inform a number of the exhibitors’ offerings this year as part of its overarching themes.

Significantly, its dedication to being a truly worldwide event is evidenced through its international pavilions, which once again feature regions as far and wide as Brazil, US, The Netherlands, UK, Germany, as well as many other European nations, plus companies from further afield including China, which could not participate last year due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

Confectionery Production reported on last year’s event, which was understandably down on the levels of attendance from the previous year’s show, attaining only around a third of visitor numbers due to the adverse conditions. Despite pandemic measures being fully removed, the industry has faced fresh operating challenges that prompted it to be re-aligned for a new date of April 23-25, allowing greater preparation time. As its organising team note, there’s a sense of hope within the host city, which has just marked its traditional ‘Karneval’ street celebrations and parades that spark the New Year into life.

In terms of prospects for this year’s ISM, it has been revealed that the exhibitor list has already surpassed the 2022 total of (1,085) with 1,117 registered for the 2023 show at the time of going to press. For ProSweets last year, there were 200 exhibitors, and for the latest edition of the show, which is being held in an agile compact table-top format within the boulevards of ISM, with a total of 113 companies from across systems, equipment and ingredients businesses have registered their interests.

Speaking exclusively to Confectionery Production, ISM’s director Sabine Schommer (above) felt that there had been a strong sense the event was recovering to a point nearing its pre-pandemic peak. As she noted, with just weeks to go until the show, there was ‘an energetic atmosphere’ surrounding the build-up to the event, with exhibitors realising that despite the delayed dates, there is real potential for its 2023 edition to succeed. “We’re very much excited, we’re feeling that everything around the show is very dynamic at the moment, people are joining and looking forward to meeting at ISM.

“I think we’re taking an important step towards full strength with the event, we are not quite at our pre Covid-19 levels, but we are in a good way with exhibitors, and we also have lots of registrations from the visitor side as well,” enthused the director, revealing that had the show not gone ahead last year, it would have negatively impacted on its prospects for this year. In respect of this, she revealed that while there had been a level of disappointment from some exhibitors over reduced visitor numbers in January 2022 amid the peak of new variant pandemic conditions, it nevertheless had enabled Koelnmesse to keep in touch with its key stakeholders. She added that “there were many who were surprised at how right it actually went right in the end,” as she confirmed that exhibitor levels were now at around 80 per cent of what was attained at its high watermark 50th anniversary year of 2020.

Thankfully, with pandemic restrictions easing around the world during the past 12 months – including most recently within China – which persisted with lockdown conditions for nearly three years, the live events industry is set to benefit this year and beyond. While the director observed that online-based events have their purpose, there is no beating the sense of occasion of live industry showcases.

“We are extremely excited to be staging the event again. In these past two or three years, we have seen many challenges that we have not seen before, and I think that we are very proud to be able to stage ISM again for meeting in person again, and exchange ideas and find solutions together, and discuss strategies, and see how can see face those challenges together along the whole supply chain. “ISM is special in being staged alongside ProSweets, so we have suppliers, industry and the trade together at one time, which is the ideal surrounding for meeting up as a sector,” explained the Cologne-based event director, who has been in her role since 2015, having previous led operations for ProSweets.

Unique selling points
As the director noted, there has been no room for complacency in the continued development of the show, amid a comparatively crowded array of global events across the wider food and drink space for 2023. According to Sabine, ISM has placed a particularly strong emphasis on attracting a high quality of visitors to the event, which contributes to its overall atmosphere and standing within the industry. “What is very special is that it is a showcase of all the world’s confectionery in one place – you can see nearly all the export confectionery and snacks that are being made globally. What differentiates it is that it’s a CEO trade fair – you can meet people at that level, not just regional managers, so he decision makers and buyers are there, which is why it is the perfect platform for people to be able to sit down together. I think that’s what makes it unique, as you won’t find this at any other show.”

Major event themes
In light of market challenges, this year’s ISM will examine some core related themes revolving around digitalisation at the POS, as well as the sustainability, transparency and origins of products and ingredients still continue to play a central role.

Business resilience and the sustainable, resource-saving production of sweets and snacks is called for more than ever. So, among highlights of the event and congress programme, being planned together with ProSweets Cologne 2023 – Special Edition taking place parallel, have already been set. As part of this, Euromonitor, a partner of both trade fairs of many years, will discuss the effects of inflation on the sweets and snacks market in Europe under the title “Inflation Surge and its Impact on Snacks.”

The industry sponsor of ProSweets Cologne, DLG, will also discuss approaches to solutions for the global procurement of raw materials and energy efficiency in sweets production on the Expert Stage. In addition to this, the networking format #CONNECT2030 will continue during the trade fair on the Expert Stage. Here, representatives from production and packaging, as well as from industry and trade will dedicate themselves to examining the impact of the energy crisis and the lack of raw materials in the sweets industry.

The event will then offer all participants and speakers the possibility to exchange ideas with the industry pros and to establish new business contacts along the entire value creation chain under the motto “Meet the Speakers”. Sabine added: “We chose ‘encourage, enable and excite’ as our key themes – encourage through meeting together – things haven’t become as bad as were afraid they were going to be. “We’re still there, so ‘enable’ means in our fringe programme we have a very elaborate programme in terms of seminars and workshops, looking at supply chain, climate change, sustainability, zero waste, which are hot topics in these times.”

“Excite represents the products themselves, that all the exhibitors bring, we try to bring people together more actively and have seminars that have added value and show solutions to the problems everyone is facing right now.”

As regards ProSweets, she acknowledged that this year faced particular competition from other events, with Interpack following on just after it in May, as well as the major IBA bakery show in October, meaning that combining forces with ISM in an easier format of table-tops was felt to be the best way forward. From just a small base of initial smaller stands, she noted that these had very quickly sold out, enabling the exhibition area to be expanded into adjoining ISM boulevards, representing the equipment and ingredients side of the industry.

Moreover, the director believed this revised layout would offer greater visibility to exhibiting businesses, given their strategic placement meaning that anyone visiting its sister show will encounter the ProSweets business displays. As the show’s director noted, there will also have a fresh location, Hall 5, known as ‘Lab5 by ISM’ dedicated to new products and start-up companies in a slightly more informal, relaxed setting.

It will incorporate a specialised retail area, snacks trends zone, and new product showcase, and newcomer area, as well as hosting the Dutch pavilion. With ProSweets being in a more agile format this year, show organisers were aware that making more flexible use of the available space was a consideration that needed to be fully explored. “The Lab5 area will have a different look and feel to other parts of ISM, and it will feature a coffee bar that is going to turn into a local-style Kolsch beer bar later on in the day, where you can meet and toast what we hope will be a successful ISM with friends, as well as having music from a DJ there too. This has been set up to the incubator part of ISM, so it’s going to feel like the younger part of the event,” added Sabine, who revealed that the organising team had already received a strong level of interest for products within the new product showcase area, demonstrating that innovation is alive and well surrounding the show.

Latest ranges revealed
This is one of the wonderful things about ISM, is that there is a sense of balance between there being these traditional products that you’ve known since your childhood, and something new there every time that you’ve never tried before. Something made with new technology or ingredients, which is what makes it exciting. “We all like treats, so it’s fantastic to be able to make those discoveries of a new aroma, mouthfeeling, textures or flavours,” enthused Sabine of what is an ever-restless industry, eager to deliver the latest on-trend product that offers something genuinely fresh to the market.

On a personal level, she added it has been especially rewarding to continue in her role engaging with a sector that has proved comparatively dynamic, both in terms of its product development, and adoption of emerging technologies and consumer trends. Having been involved with the sector’s operations at management level for the past decade has clearly given her a strong oversight of the global market, and its ever-shifting priorities and demands. “What I enjoy the most about the industry is threefold – firstly the people that I work with in terms of exhibitors and visitors. They’re down to earth, honest merchants who are very clear about what they want to do. I like working with them – and they also love the industry. They may change company, but often stay within the sector. It is a large industry, and it is one of the strongest in Germany, and it feels like a family. “The second thing is the product – it’s the most wonderful in Koelnmesse’s portfolios, and I am a lucky woman to be allowed to do ISM, and then it’s this innovation there, it’s always exciting, with something new to discover and taste, which is lovely,” concluded Sabine, who concluded that she is keenly anticipating another eventful edition of the world’s largest confectionery event.



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