Anyone looking to boost business contacts in the international food industry, to explore import or export markets or to learn more about worldwide consumption trends and innovations should visit Paris next month.
For five days, from 22 October, many of the world's biggest food players will be congregating at the Parcs des Expositions, which is playing host to Sial, one of the industry's biggest international showcases.
The exhibition promises a 100% business focus and a cross-disciplinary approach to market issues.
More than 5,200 exhibitors, representing all market sectors and from 100 different countries, will be showing off their wares. Organisers are also expecting the total of international trade visitors to beat the number achieved at the previous Paris show in 2004, which topped 136,000 and included people from 183 nations.
Every retail distribution channel will be covered - from supermarkets and discounters to cash & carries, wholesalers, importers and exporters, along with manufacturers and suppliers from every conceivable food category. Representatives from the central buying offices of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Waitrose are among visitors expected.
The event is divided into 17 product sectors designed to spotlight products from around the globe, and includes 93 national pavilions and regions of the world, as well as 22 pavilions hosting the regions of France.
Exhibition space has grown by 10% compared with Sial 2004 and international participation in the event has increased. New countries attending this year include Finland and Serbia.
Besides improving their industry contacts and enriching their knowledge, visitors will be able to view a vast range of new products and innovations, most significantly in the Trends & Innovations Area, which will act as a showcase for product innovations from around the world.
In 2004, there were 1,600 new products on display, of which more than 500 were selected by the international Sial committee of experts, with 28 being awarded the prestigious Coup de Coeur award.
Relatively new products with proven success will be found in the Sial d'Or arena. These awards, now 20 years old, are run in partnership with ACNielsen and recognise commercially successful food products from around the world. The competing products are selected by 26 international food industry trade magazines and the retail distribution sector, and this year fall into eight different product categories.
All 208 award-winners will be presented in the dedicated Sial d'Or area, offering distribution professionals and buyers a global overview of the most effective product launches across all the countries in the past 18 months.
The winner of the ultimate prize, the Global Sial d'Or is set to be announced on the evening of Monday 23 October.
British suppliers will be represented in force, including 60 set to join force in the British Pavilion organised by Food from Britain (FFB). New products here are eligible for the Best New British Product title, awarded by FFB.
New tailor-made events for this year's show include spotlights on dynamic grocery areas, including fine foods, a tea pavilion and a focus on fair trade.
For the first time at Sial, visitors will also get the opportunity to spend a day visiting retail outlets in Paris or Paris and London after the show, taking in developments by Tesco, Asda, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Harrods, as well as E Leclerc, Carrefour and Intermarché.
In addition to the official Sial catalogue, there are special visitors' guides available to fruit and vegetables, foodservice, grocery products, dairy and meat, as well as 12 theme trails designed to help visitors target a particular area of interest.
These include nutrition; organics; seafood; hot beverages; fine foods; wines; ethical products; ready meals and takeaways; kosher; halal; and innovations.
Meanwhile, a range of initiatives will highlight the emerging consumer trends set to define tomorrow's marketplace including the Ingredients & Additives advice and information centre and a programme of talks and conferences held in the forum for nutrition, covering hot strategic issues such as nutrition and food safety.
The Nutrition Village will also highlight the work of food industry professionals, restaurateurs and nutritionists. Seminars relating to the retail distribution sector planned include: 'The food industry and retail distributors: participants in public programmes' and 'The difficult choices facing consumers: a nutritionist's opinion.'
La Cuisine du Sial is the key catering arena for the show. It will be the setting for a programme of professional demonstrations throughout the five days of the show and will feature cooking demonstrations, best buy recommendations, information on wines, a French Export Corner and a fruit and vegetables design section.
It will also be linked to a Chefs Go Shopping initiative, whereby a team of chefs will tour the aisles to seek out ingredients that they will then use to prepare original dishes.
La Cuisine du Sial is also be available to exhibitors, and visitors to the show can expect to be treated to live demonstrations of products and expertise.
In the French Export Corner, French exhibitors and international visitors will be able to use a new networking resource, including a company information centre to identify which French companies export to which countries, as well as getting directions to their stands, whether they are in the French Export Corner, in the Regions of France pavilions or in the product sectors.
There will also be informal meetings with the buyers from international delegations, as well as individual sourcing meetings and daily culinary events focusing on international themes.
To plan a visit to Sial 2006, get details to help with organising your schedule and to book a ticket, go to www.sial.frn