Despite all the headlines involving suicide bombings, air strikes, beheadings, religious/ethnic strife, outright devastation, displacement and death in the Middle East, most of the countries in the region are quietly focused on peaceful progress and prosperity.

And in those countries, as one would expect, demand for a broad range of consumer products has risen, particularly for sweets and snacks.

According to Euromonitor International, sales for sweets and snacks in the Middle East alone have risen by 20 percent annually since 2010. Projections for the future envision a similar scenario, driven by an increase in disposable income and the trend toward high-end products sought out by a growing middle class throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Thus, it’s not surprising that the Sweets & Snacks Middle East show reflects that trend. The 2014 version had a 13 percent jump in visitors and a 30 percent increase in exhibitors.

Nearly 7,000 confectionery and snack buyers from more than 70 countries attended the three-day event held in Dubai Nov. 9-11, which was organized by Koelnmesse and the Dubai World Trade Center. Overall, about 230 suppliers from 38 countries exhibited a broad range of confections, about thirty percent more than at the previous event in 2013.

“The dynamic course of Sweets & Snacks Middle East 2014 again shows how well the trade fair works as a trading hub for sweets and snacks here at the Dubai site,” says Denis Steker, vice president – International Outbound Fairs at Koelnmesse GmbH. “The market is growing continuously, and the size and relevance of the trade fair is growing with it.”

In particular, this year was marked by a strong growth in exhibitor numbers from Europe and Asia. The national pavilions from Germany, Jordan and Turkey presented their products on a much larger area. Belgium, Brazil, China, Greece, Malaysia, the Netherlands and the United States were also at the venue in Dubai with joint participations.

Ibrahim Hamouda, international sales director – Middle East, Original Gourmet Food Co., who was attending his third Sweets & Snacks Middle East show, confirmed the show’s growth from last year, adding that the show serves as an ideal meeting point for companies looking to expand distribution in the region.

“We are now selling our gourmet lollipops in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Egypt,” he says. “And we’re looking to expand into Bahrain, Oman, Quatar, Iraq as well as Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.”

Access to distribution in the MENA region was also the reason that Nicholas Busuioc of Packom Sweets, LLC was in attendance at the show.

“We have one of the largest booths at the show,” he explains. Having just completed a revamping of its packaging as well as acquiring the trademark rights to Jake Vitamin Candy, the company wanted to expand distribution in the Middle East and Asia.

Interviewed on the first day of the show, Busuioc expressed optimism about offering the company’s line of vitamin-enhanced candies to a new audience.

“We received a great response from distributors in Oman,” he says. “There’s no one else doing what we’re doing.”

Alain Wehbe, export manager for Brazilian candy maker Peccin, S.A., praised the move to separate the confectionery and snacks segment from the Gulfood show in order to create Sweets and Snacks Middle East.

“The people coming to our booth know what they are doing,” he says. “They are in the business; they’re professionals in candy and are looking for specific items. The show is becoming like ISM. Besides, the people in this part of the world love sugar.”

Wehbe also mentioned the importance of having organizers, such as Koelnmesse and the Dubai World Trade Center, in charge of the show.

“They know what they are doing,” he says.

Moreover, Wehbe mentioned the important cultural tie-in the show offers for those doing business with MENA customers.

“They want to see you at least twice a year, talk with members of your team,” Wehbe says. “That’s the secret of this market. It’s not just about the sale. Actually, it’s the after sale that’s more important.”

He also adds that’s it’s important to bring something new and different to the show. “People here are looking for new ideas, they want to renew their portfolio. They want to have something that’s attractive in the market. So don’t come to this area with something old.”

Other exhibitors also echoed Wehbe’s comments. Atanás Zikas, area manager – international at Lambertz, gave a thumbs up to the company’s first appearance at Sweets & Snacks Middle East: “We have been able to make many high-quality, interesting and promising contacts at this trade fair. Dubai is the ideal location to develop the sales potential of the MENA region.”

Erik de Troyer, Duc d’O’s international sales manager, also affirmed that the Sweets & Snacks Middle East show is the right platform for placing the company’s premium brand within the region.

“The quality of visitors at this focused platform is excellent for our products in comparison with non-specialized food trade fairs in the region, and the demand for high-quality products such as ours is very high here,” he says.  

 The Speciality Food Festival, SEAFEX and Gulfood Manufacturing trade fairs took place in parallel with Sweets & Snacks Middle East, which created additional synergies for both exhibitors and visitors.

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