ProSweets/ISM 2020

Interview: Sabine Schommer, director of ISM, the largest confectionery fair in the world

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

The stage is almost set for this year's ISM/Prosweets Fair in Cologne. PIc: Koelnmesse
The stage is almost set for this year's ISM/Prosweets Fair in Cologne. PIc: Koelnmesse

Related tags ProSweets Confectionery Cologne

This year, ISM global trade fair for sweets and snacks is celebrating its 50th anniversary – and is expected to break all previous records for visitor and exhibitor attendance. In an exclusive interview, CN talks to ISM director Sabine Schommer on what to expect this year.

When the original ISM, the International Sweets and Biscuits Fair, launched in Cologne in 1971 the confectionery retail landscape was a different beast to what it has become today.

ISM began as part of Anuga, the world’s largest trade fair for food and beverages, also held in Cologne, then became its own entity 50 years ago, starting modestly when 351 companies exhibited new products to 5,800 trade visitors.

On the eve of this year’s fair and 50th​ anniversary, ConfectioneryNews talked to Sabine Schommer, the fair’s director on how ProSweets/ISM became the largest confectionery and production-based event in the world.

sabine schommer ISM 750
Sabine Schommer

Fifty years ago times were changing and the food sector was also marked by what you would call today … ‘disruptive changes’. In Germany the supermarket was substituting the ‘mom and pop shops’. The first discounter was opened by what is today Aldi in I think 1968 or so and the confectionery industry felt the need to have their own platform to exchange opinions and to interact with space - and that was really what catalysed the development of the sweets or confectionery business, which by then was present in Anuga but they left Anuga to do their own show​,” Schommer said.

Last year’s ProSweets/ISM was its largest to date, with over 21,000 trade visitors (up 5% on 2018) from over 100 countries with a total of 1, 652exhibitors (also up 5% compared to 2018) - but Schommer said 2020 is going to smash that record.

This year’s fair is going to be even better

We are so enthusiastic about this year’s fair as it is going to be even better. We have more than 5% more exhibitors than we had last year – and we are still receiving applications. Right now, we have 1,746 exhibitors – so nearly 100 companies more than 2019​.”

The trade fair’s biggest segment is traditionally the ‘Machines and Equipment’ section, which is part of ProSweets. The first ProSweets Cologne, the industry supplier side for the sweets industry, was held in 2006 and staged parallel to ISM, which is the retail end of the industry. Jointly, they cover the entire value chain of the sweets industry under one roof at Koelnmesse, the sprawling international trade fair and exhibition centre in the north of the city, which has been home to  ISM from the beginning.

We feel that this works really well​,” said Schommer. “It's the only fair, or the only two fairs, that you will find for this business -  for the suppliers and then for the retail - in the world and we find this is really a very fruitful partnership because yeah, you have a strong interaction between these two shows.

“At ISM we also have a very high ratio of CEOs that are present, so they can check out latest production and technology innovations at ProSweets, and vice-versa of course​.”

Schommer said that the country with the biggest presence in 2020 will be Italy, followed by Belgium and then the UK.

Major trends

She said major trends to watch out for this year will be individuality, which continues to play a major role in areas such as personalized nutrition: “Then we see a trend for ‘conscious enjoyment’, authentic products with sustainability included, and also the Joie de vivre factor of confectionery and the mixing of different trends and needs according to occasional seasons are very important, as well as reformulation and less sugar – and established trends such as organic and vegetarian.”

ISM 1977 Ferrero 750
In 1977, Ferrero presented a gigantic Mon Cheri praline at ISM. Pic: ISM

In terms of planning for ISM, preparations for the following year begin almost immediately once the current show ends. Parent company Koelnmesse also organizes Yummex in Dubai and trade shows in China.

Schommer said that one of her proudest achievements is being director of ISM. She took up the role in 2015, before that she was director of ProSweets and began her career in international sales and organizing fashion shows in nearby Dusseldorf.

I love the people in the business ... they are providing us with moments of enjoyment

I think ISM is the most beautiful show in all of Koelnmesse. And I love the people in the business ... they are providing us with moments of enjoyment and you can really feel that the people working in the sweets business are a special kind of character because their product is about enjoyment, about giving consumers a ‘reward’ with their products. You can see that the people working in this business have this kind of mindset, not only are they very nice but also down to earth​,” she says.

Schommer also praises her team working alongside her on ProSweets/ISM for not giving her too many sleepless nights as the opening day becomes ever closer.

You can feel the tension rising the nearer we get to the opening so, you have to find out some strategies for yourself … I usually have a piece of paper and pen beside my bed and when I wake up during the night and I feel like I have forgotten this or that, I write it down and then I can continue to sleep - but you know when I look at the sheet of paper the next morning, I usually see two-thirds of what I noted down is just rubbish!​”

She says the team is close-knit and they watch out for eachother, minimizing the potential to make mistakes that could upset the preparation.

They are a kind of insurance so that you don't forget anything because if you forget something then your colleagues will remember it and we can move on​,” she says.

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