The very first Salon du Chocolat opened in Paris in October 1995 and attracted 40 chocolate professionals and 40,000 visitors. It has since grown into a global brand, attracting over 150,000 visitors normally to Porte de Versailles Exhibition Centre, when it was last held in Paris before the pandemic.
Gérald Palacios is the new Managing Director and President of Event International, the owner of Salon du Chocolat. He took over the company in 2017 when founders Sylvie Douce and Francois Jeantet announced they were retiring.
Even six weeks ago, we didn't know if we could do it or not -- Gérald Palacios
There was a seamless transition period up until the Salon du Chocolat’s 25th anniversary in 2019 when the founders said “au revoir” for good – and then the pandemic struck, and the global live events industry went into freefall.
“I still have sleepless nights. everything stopped, the whole events world crashed, apart from in China where they continued during the crisis,” says Palacios.
In his programme notes he describes hosting Salon du Chocolat 2021, which ran from 28 October to 1 November at Porte de Versailles Exhibition Centre, as an "act of faith".
“Even six weeks ago, we didn't know if we could do it or not,” he says, when he spoke to Confectionerynews in his office at the exhibition centre. “We were really playing with the window of opportunity – and in the end we said, ‘we have to be present, we have to be there’."
Although the number of international exhibitors is down this year; there are no representatives from Japan, the United States or the UK, visitor numbers over the weekend were encouraging.
Master chocolatier Stéphane Bonnat, says he has been busy all weekend: “It was for us a very good experience with a human-sized edition that allowed us to see our customers, some of our cocoa producers and colleagues.”
The Salon du Chocolate is the first B2C show to be held in France since the pandemic, and for now Palacios says he is happy with the decision to go ahead.
“There's been so many changes relating to the crisis … particularly regarding consumer behaviour .. you have to win their trust more than ever and make them confident that you can put on a safe live event.
“But there is still a lot of unknowns," says Palacios. “The chocolate industry is very resilient to prices, but it is still very complicated. With Salon du Chocolat we host events in nine countries ....”
After Paris, Salon du Chocolat moves to Moscow and then Dubai this year and Palacios and his team are already planning and budgeting for a full global itinerary planned in 2022, pandemic permitting.
As a B2B and B2C event the Salon du Chocolat is unique in that it affords visitors the opportunity to taste and buy some of the best chocolates in the world. It also gives the chocolate makers a direct audience with consumers and since its inception the show has strived to educate the public not only on the beauty of cocoa, but also its provenance.
“Since the beginning, the broad idea of Salon du Chocolat was to educate people. That's why we feature educational talks on what is a good chocolate? What is good Cacao?,” says Palacios.
“Normally we have about eight or nine cacao producer countries attending the Salon, because we wanted to put these two worlds together, to bring the awareness about cacao’s traceability to the consumer. Ten years ago it wasn’t so important - now it’s a real part of the bean-to-bar movement.”
International Cocoa Awards
The Salon du Chocolat is also home to the International Cocoa Awards, which showcases the finest producers from around the world and introduces new talents to the industry.
“For more than 10 years we have been part of one of the most prestigious cacao awards, that we have developed and we sponsor and we want to continue. It’s a most important prize for the cacao producer, and takes place at the Salon every two years,” says Palacios.
Last year the awards went online, but another strong selling point of the Salon du Chocolat is that it allows companies to test their products in front of the consumer, in different international markets.
“We have discovered that in the last five years, the consumer really has changed … they are much more interested and want to know more about the chocolate, the exhibitors will tell you the same,” says Palacios. “Before they were coming, eating, tasting and buying. Not anymore.
“Chocolate is becoming an affordable luxury, and people, want to know about its origin So, yes there is a change of behaviour and I think that this is for us important because, you can’t stop that change, we all have to change.”
Salon du Chocolat moves to Moscow and Dubai later this year and will be back in Paris in 2022.