Keith Garden, managing director of Only Natural Products, exhibiting with Epicurean International, reports exclusively for from this year's SIAL trade show

The show could not have been better. People have been saying that this has been the best SIAL ever. We’ve taken numerous orders on the stand – far more than usual at trade shows - plus more business than we’ve ever done at a show.

The mix of visitors to our stand surprised me: people were coming from pretty much everywhere. We saw HEB, Central Markets, Cost Plus and Meyer from America; buyers from Japan, the far east, Central Europe, France, Germany, Scandinavia, India – all over. And people from every type of buyer, from retail, to foodservice, to distribution. If you made a tick-list of people we wanted, they all turned up. Another great thing about the show was that heavy hitters from UK retail were there: we spoke to Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Harrods and Morrisons.

It’s the first time we’ve exhibited with our export partner, Epicurean International, and it’s worked very well. We’ve been able to refer leads to one another, suggest other Epicurean products that might interest buyers and offer them the opportunity to consolidate our products.

We launched our ready-to-drink herbal teas at the show and they’ve been a roaring success. It’s great to have a product that’s so easy to sample on the stand as it really hooks prospective buyers. We’re looking to move from being totally retail-focused with our teabags to high-end foodservice and the plan’s been working really well, as people are drawn to the new products at a show; they want to have what other people don’t.

It’s been fascinating to compare the negotiations we’ve been having at SIAL with those in the UK where price comes up very early in the conversations these days. SIAL's been great because people are interested in the product, its story, what it’s like, what it tastes like. Price is almost immaterial – in fact we secured two major listings with Galleries Lafeyette and Monoprix without them seeing the product or knowing the price.

Overall it’s been a stunning show, with no evidence of doom and gloom in the economy; buyers and distributors are as keen as before if not keener. When we’ve been talking to other exhibitors, everyone’s saying that they’ve written more business than ever before. Being part of the British pavilion is really important as the Britain brand is very strong. One of our buyers suggested using 'made in Britain' on the front of our packaging because it’s such a strong selling point.