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Leading The Charge: ESM Meets SIAL Paris Event Director Audrey Ashworth

In January, SIAL Paris appointed a new event director, Audrey Ashworth. Ashworth previously worked at Comexposium, where she was the head of the SIAL sales network from 2018 to 2021, as well as holding the role of EMEA sales director. She comes into the new role eager to develop three key areas of SIAL Paris: business, inspiration and experience. ESM caught up with her.

Hi, Audrey. Thanks for talking to us. You took over as event director of SIAL Paris in January of this year. What excites you the most about your new role?

We are motivated and delighted to welcome the food industry community back to SIAL Paris, and, of course, to reveal to our clients everything that we have been preparing since we were put on standby nearly two years ago because of the pandemic.

The theme of this year’s SIAL Paris is #ownthechange. What does that mean to you?

We are all active participants in the change that is under way, and we must grasp the environmental, ethical, digital and demographic challenges facing the planet. It is up to us to rise to the challenges of food security and changes in consumption habits.

We must keep in mind our social responsibility overall, and we must collectively solve complex problems – for example, how to produce more while polluting less, or reducing the carbon footprint of our consumption.

SIAL Paris offers time for discussion and provides a global platform for raising these subjects, finding new drivers, and anticipating future issues.

The worlds of retail, food and beverage are much changed since the pandemic. In what way is SIAL also adapting to reflect this new reality?

There are several trends emerging this year. We can see a lot of innovation in the field of sustainability, alternative food products – including meat, fish and dairy products – as well as, for instance, processes or services using blockchain technology.

The challenges facing the food industry are directly addressed in the SIAL Insights publication. The 2022 study encompasses consumer expectations, the global innovation panorama, and the latest trends in out-of-home cooking. The studies show how eating has become a statement, and 73% of consumers have changed their eating habits over the last two years.

The publication has identified four key trends: health, enjoyment, environment and ethics, and price. According to the findings, eating is something people enjoy, and they want their experience to be both healthy and ethical, now and for the future. Sacrificing one of these factors in exchange for more purchasing power is set to be less and less acceptable, given the ongoing crises.

The report also notes that economic pressure is evolving from the need to balance quality and price towards a more complex equation: value for money – the plateau reached by the organic market over the period is a great example of that – but consumers do acknowledge that players are making changes. The challenge now is to be able to meet all their expectations with a clear offer that is affordable for as many people as possible.

Attendees at SIAL Paris can also attend the programme of SIAL Talks for additional discussion about the state of the food industry. The 2022 programme is designed to help attendees understand, analyse and debate the food scene of tomorrow and reflect on the trends happening in the food industry ecosystem. More than 100 speakers from around the world will address themes such as traceability, climate issues, and the place of women in the food industry.

Another returning feature for SIAL Paris 2022 is the Innovation Awards. Every exhibitor can participate in the awards, provided that the product is new to a market and less than two years old. A nominated product must also bring something new to the market. The awards bring a lot of success and attract plenty of attention from the media, as well as from visitors. The SIAL Innovation Awards give us a great overview of the innovations present at the show.

To what degree has SIAL developed a ‘hybrid’ operating model, blending both in-person and digital elements?

This year we are launching a great new feature: CXMP Marketplace, a platform to connect our visitors and our exhibitors and help them make business together. CXMP will help our visitors to find their exhibitors and products of choice and organise their visit. Accessible all year round, CXMP will enable buyers to stay connected to the international food community and order the products they need at any time.

Further digitisation at SIAL Paris 2022 comes with the launch of an app, to enhance the visitor experience at the show. This digital tool will help visitors search for exhibitors, then highlight the best way through the show to the requested stand. This app is also available for attendees to download.

The pace of change has also accelerated, particularly given the shifts in the geopolitical and socio-economic environment in recent months. How important a role should SIAL play, do you think, in helping firms future-proof their businesses?

Food sufficiency is a world challenge, and it is even more obvious in the current geopolitical context. People will always need to eat. That is why agriculture and the food industry are sectors of the future, however, the changes on the way in these developing sectors are considerable, and the challenges are immense. Food sufficiency will necessarily require innovation. That means taking into account a paradigm shift: producing more while polluting less, exploring new sources of procurement, evolving towards more transparency, and so on.

With ‘Own the Change’, SIAL Paris is encouraging the food community to seize the reins of change and to collectively consider the solutions of the future during the event and beyond.

How important a role do start-ups and emerging food businesses play in SIAL Paris?

Start-ups play a key role in finding innovative solutions in response to the desire for new, healthier, and environmentally friendly products. This year, we are expecting to welcome start-ups from around the world.

In collaboration with Startup Sesame, we are also launching SIAL Start-up, a dedicated area for up to 100 young companies with less than five years of existence.

The SIAL Innovation Awards celebrate new-product development and emerging trends. What trends have caught your eye this year?

Having assessed several hundreds of innovations that will be presented at SIAL, I have noted a few points.

We have seen a lot of ‘pleasure’ innovations, with premium products, elaborated recipes, and regional and traditional specialities. The products that provide natural health benefits are growing fast, too. This can be with natural ingredients, such as superfruits, or supervegs, or seeds. It can be with natural processes such as fermentation, e.g. dairy, vegetable, kefir or kombucha drinks.

Last but not least, a number of products that respond to the need for food transition – local and ecological products, reduced packaging, animal welfare guarantees, fair remuneration for the farmer or producer. Finally, and most notably, we’ve noted an extraordinarily high number of vegan substitutes – meat substitutes, of course, but also cheese and fish substitutes based on plants.

This is the first year that industry representatives have the chance to properly network since before the pandemic. How important a role does SIAL play in providing a platform for that?

SIAL Paris confirms its ambition: to federate the food ecosystem around the principal transformations under way in the food industry. We are thrilled to welcome the food community back to Paris, and to help the industry to reconnect.

Also, we are excited to introduce CXMP Marketplace, a platform to connect our buyers with the exhibitors and help them make business together.

On a personal level, what are you looking forward to most from SIAL Paris 2022?

On a personal level, I’m really thrilled to have the worldwide community gathered in Paris for five days. Actually, it has been four years since the last physical edition of SIAL Paris. We seized that time as an opportunity to innovate and bring the trade show further, and I am excited to be able to welcome the whole food industry back to Paris.

For more information, visit sialparis.com

© 2022 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest A-Brands news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.

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