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SIAL China 2021: Opportunities and Challenges

The SIAL Network is known to be the world’s largest food innovation network. It is a world benchmark for food industry players, with a live community of more than 365,800 global buyers. Today, SIAL is a global brand present in 50 countries worldwide, with events constantly held in 7 countries.

The SIAL China trade show, as an integral part of the SIAL Network, is co-hosted with China Commerce Development Center (CCDC). The trade show is strategically located in Shanghai and has become Asia’s most important food and beverage exhibition event.

Many foreign companies consider SIAL China a gateway to tap into the Chinese consumer market. Jim Liu, CEO of SIAL China, said that “SIAL China holds an important place on the industry calendar.” Since the launch of SIAL China, the fair has been an excellent platform for food companies to find partners, subcontractors, discover new products, find out about recent trends and the food market developments in China. In 2019, SIAL China attracted 4,300 global and 117,595 professional visitors. There were 17,251 appointments initiated via SIAL’s matchmaking platform.

The success of SIAL China has attracted government departments and business associations worldwide to participate as well. Many countries often organize trade missions and set up government funds to support private businesses to attend SIAL China. These government initiatives take advantage of SIAL China to help small businesses in their international market expansion process. Such is the case of Northwest Hazelnut Company, a small US agribusiness that attended the SIAL China trade show through a program coordinated by the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association. Through SIAL China, the company met with dozens of their buyers and eventually achieved a 5% growth in business with China for that year. ICEX Spain Trade and Investment, a Spanish public institution whose mission is to promote the internationalization of Spanish companies, organizes the Spanish Pavilion in SIAL China each year to promote Spanish products and Spanish cuisine, from olives, olive oil, wine to cheese, pork, fish and juice.

Although SIAL China 2020 was greatly affected by the pandemic, this year’s SIAL China promises to attract more international exhibitors and visitors. However, due to the current travel restrictions, overseas visitors are still unable to travel conveniently. Without the physical presence of many exhibitors, the tradeshow and matchmaking activities must be conducted in a virtual way. The service “Livestreaming visiting SIAL CHINA” launched in the edition of 2020 will be available at the 2021 event. Audiences everywhere in the world can see the display of products, watch the on-site activities, and attend the business matching meetings.

Live streaming, virtual exhibitions, and online matchmaking meetings are becoming increasingly popular. Yet, given these tools, some companies seeking B2B deals are still experiencing difficulties securing new buyers. For one thing, the COVID-19 has left many B2B buyers in China rethinking their trading terms due to the uncertainty and the changing conditions of the marketplace. B2B contract negotiations are increasingly more challenging than before. For another, the rapid development of the cross-border e-commerce environment in China has transformed many B2B businesses from the traditional trading, buy and sell model to a consulting-based business, focusing more on marketing and sales management, brand strategy, and logistics consolidation. Overseas retailers are encouraged to sell to Chinese consumers directly via cross-border e-commerce as the country continues to implement preferential e-commerce policies nationwide.

In China, purchasing good quality branded products online is already a lifestyle. Companies that focus on B2B must start to contemplate the possibility of B2C sales in China. For those SIAL China B2B sellers, e-commerce may seem unattractive. After all, why should they sell their products unit by unit if they can sell at once in bulk? The question may be rhetorical if the sellers do not care about branding and direct access to the final consumers. But for those who do care about building brand awareness, don’t just attend SIAL China looking for buyers. Find a reliable partner that will give you access to the most suitable sales channels and be willing to invest in time and resources to do business and grow together.

Finally, as a side note, CW recently launched a new business division that provides cross-border e-commerce solutions to small and medium-sized firms. The new division is operating under a joint venture MHnCW Limited, partnering with Minihome Media, an omnichannel e-commerce and marketing service provider based in Hong Kong. For more information, please contact our e-commerce project coordinator Delilah Li via delilah.li@cwhkcpa.com.