Foreign food and beverage suppliers converged on Phnom Penh yesterday in search of a local distributor to help expand their brands into the Kingdom’s hospitality industry.
The first day of the CamFood and CamHotel expo kicked off yesterday at Diamond Island Convention Centre. More than 300 companies, including meat suppliers, coffee roasters, wine makers and oven manufactures registered for the expo’s third installment since 2010.
“This is a professional-to-professional event, not so much about the public,” Luu Meng, head of the newly established Cambodia Tourism Federation, said yesterday while judging the Cambodian National Culinary Competition.
“Today is about bringing to Cambodia quality first. Quality first means everything and everyone moving towards the one goal of improving standards across Cambodia’s hospitality and food and beverage industry together.”
But while Meng was focused on grading the student Cambodian chefs cooking in the national competition, the expo floor was a frenzied maze of handshakes, business cards and sales pitches.
Jim Cromzigt, CEO of the Thailand-based Coffee Group Asia was just one of the firms vying for a chance to expand into the local marketplace.
“In Asia, there has become this sort of desire to consume European. So I’m really just here trying to find a distributor,” Cromzigt said.
“I hope to find one potential distributor at the least. Then start a partnership, and maybe consider expanding our business to Cambodia. If this expo brings me one potential lead, I will be satisfied.”
At the end of day-one of his first CamFood and CamHotel expo, Cromzigt said that he had yet to find a distributor for his Catunambu branded coffee beans.
Francesco Paganelli, export manager of Romagna Coop Food, a cooperative of small-scale food producers from Italy, was in a very similar position as the stalls wound up yesterday afternoon.
“There has been growth in the number of Italian restaurants opening up here. So naturally, we want to expand our business to Cambodia as we have already expanded to Vietnam and Thailand,” he said, adding that he was yet to make any partnership prospects.
While some of the foreign businesses came to the expo with high hopes and little knowledge of Cambodia’s business environment, others were well aware of the potential barriers to trade.
“It’s a great expo and it does give us a real chance at finding a local to help us enter the market and learn more about how business is done here,” Fahmy Ahmad, CEO of Malaysian health food maker Wangsa Interaktif, said.
“That said, we understood very quickly, before even arriving, that customs procedures in Cambodia would be an issue for our naturally-made products, and then transport and in-country logistics also looks to be a challenge.”
The CamFood and CamHotel exhibition started in 2010 with some 60 stall holders, according Andrew Siow, director of the Singaporean-based event organiser, AMB Events Group.
That number increased to more than 90 in 2012 and to 170 stalls this year.
During the 2012 expo, Siow estimated that exhibiting companies achieved more than $670,000 worth of sales and later went on to strike $2 million worth of post-event deals and partnerships.
“The hotel and restaurant scene was very new back in 2010 and we were the only business-to-business trade show operator looking at the country,” Siow said.
“But now, we are confidently seeing growth in exhibitors and attendees. Cambodia’s purchasing power is increasing, slowly, which is driving some growth in the franchise industry and encouraging more exhibitors to come to the expos.”