It was lucky number 13 for Gulfood as the 2008 edition cemented the show's reputation as an industry stalwart.
Gulfood returned to Dubai bigger and better than ever last month, with more exhibitors, new products and a huge increase in the number of visitors.
While the 2007 edition saw more than 37,000 people from the foodservice and manufacturing industry attend the show - with buying delegations from more than 30 different countries - this year saw a growth of 20%, with the show taking over the entire venue at Dubai International Exhibition Centre, according to Gulfood project manager Elly Habt.
"We reorganised the layout of Gulfood into different sectors, so we had processing, packaging and labelling equipment together in hall two, as well as beverages and beverage equipment in hall three," she said.
"On the visitor side, since we launched our online registrations we saw a significant jump there. The visitor interest has grown. It's one thing growing the show size-wise, but it's another thing to make sure that we deliver more visitors," she added.
The Beverage Opportunity Workshops that ran alongside Gulfood offered insight into marketing and branding strategies for the trade, with best-practice suggestions for operating in the region.
There was also the new Restaurant and Café Middle East exhibition, which took place in hall one and was designed to meet the needs of new restaurants and cafés setting up in the region, with everything from cutlery, chinaware and tableware to flooring, seating and lighting.
"The conference programme also improved tremendously this year. It literally grew from 150 attendees in previous years to 600 people this year. The speakers came in from all over the world - from the US, Canada, New Zealand and across the region - and they put together quite an extensive programme," said Habt.
"It was all about industry issues, food safety and the new regulations in the region, and how these areas can be improved," she explained.
As in previous years, the industry favourite Salon Culinaire took centre stage, this year featuring a new chocolate workshop.
"It was all the young chefs competing. More than 1000 took part. They had 25 international judges this year, and they ran competitions from the World Association of Chefs Society (WACS)," said Habt.
"They had a lot of the same competitions as in previous years, but the important thing this year was that the judges chose six chefs under the age of 23 who will go on to qualify for the WACS Congress, which will be held in May in Dubai."
The addition of the Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Maktoum halls this year made space for a larger number of country pavilions, with an increase in interest from exhibitors from South America and Eastern Europe.
The countries with the largest presence included the US, Turkey, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, and Egypt.
"We already had visitors from Brazil last year, but the country doubled or even tripled the size of its stand this year because of the importance of the Halal meat exported from Brazil to the Middle East," added Habt.
"On the equipment side, the biggest national pavilion was from Germany, which was more than 1200m2," she continued.
Among those countries taking their first steps into the region were Uruguay, Ecuador, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, which all had pavilions for the first time at a Middle Eastern tradeshow of this type.
"This just emphasises how international the show is and how fast it is growing, with people all over the world interested in the show and caring about the region.
"Gulfood is also helping to drive the maturity of the market and bringing more specialised buyers into the Middle East," said Habt.
"On the list of all the important trade shows in the industry today, we are probably number three at the moment - if not the most important - because everyone is talking about Gulfood right now," she continued.
"[Companies] need to have a presence at Gulfood, because this is where the industry gathers, not only from this region but also from all around the world."
"The market is booming so much that if they miss out one year, they will be forgotten."
Gulfood will continue to respond to the needs of the growing F&B industry as the organisers now turn their attention to planning for the 2009 edition, Habt promised.
"Whatever feedback we get from the exhibitors and visitors, we will take into account. There will be further refinements of the different sectors in the future, but we still need to look into all that."
While final figures for the number of new deals and amount of business generated will not be available for some time, exhibitors reported a record number of business inquiries during the first two days of trading.
A number of million-dollar deals were already confirmed by the close of business on the second day.
"We helped our exhibitors meet the right type of visitors," Habt concluded.
Caterer Middle East asked a number of different exhibitors about the emerging trends that they were seeing at this year's trade show:
There is a distinct move from traditional fine dining to a more casual - but still elegant - style, and the tapas or mezze style of sharing a variety of starters is now extending to dessert service, requiring tableware to present smaller portions. Gavin Dodd, A. Ronai LLC
We saw a growth in natural ingredients, where modified food ingredients are replaced. People like clean, labelled, natural products of a very high quality. Bram Gunter, Codrico
In my opinion, there are a couple of things that are always very important in the catering industry: first is healthy and fresh food, and second is the application of the appropriate sanitation certificates for food processing machines. Carlos Ferrandis, Zumoval
People will always be interested in innovative ideas like new designs, new packaging and new products for use either in food service or in industry. Alex Hoogers, Friesland
The usual meat products, such as the tenderloin, striploin and cube-roll are still very popular, so our objective was to educate people about the other prime cuts, which can be used to add value to menus without having to have the high cost of the more popular meat products. Dirk Geleit, Westmeats Export
Labour-saving foods are becoming more important internationally, following the US and European trends from some years ago, as wages and labour shortages become more of an issue. Interest in organic and pro-biotic products is also growing rapidly. Jeffrey Johnson, Michael Foods Inc
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