Malaysia Could Join Other ASEAN Countries for Collective “Partner Region” Participation at New York’s Food Show

Bill Lynch, the President of the powerful Specialty Food Association (SFA).
By Manik Mehta

NEW YORK, June 19 – At the just-concluded New York Fancy Food Show, which experts consider as a useful tool for a country wanting to promote food exports to the United States, Italy hogged the limelight as a “partner country” with Italian exhibitors occupying several rows showcasing a wide array of
Italian food products – ranging from olives and olive oil through noodles, spaghetti, pizza crusts
and tomato sauces to cheeses and canned fish.

The “partner country” strategy was, actually, started by German trade fair organizers who
canvassed with certain countries which could recruit large number of exhibitors for participation under the “partner country” banner.

There was also speculation at the NYFFS among some ASEAN trade visitors to join hands with
each other, including Malaysia, to make a collective “partner region” participation, with each
country showcasing its products and services at a future NYFFS event. Although no formal talks
have been initiated, the idea does have merit and needs to be considered by the powers that
be in each member country of the ASEAN group.

The U.S. is not only North America’s but also the world’s biggest market for food products in
value terms. It is not surprising that many of the world’s exhibitors make a strong pitch for their
products at the NYFFS to get a slice – no matter how small – of the lucrative pie.

In an interview with the Weekly Echo on the final day of the trade show, an upbeat Bill Lynch,
the President of the powerful Specialty Food Association (SFA), said that “we are back in the
game’, by which he meant that the trade show, which was being held “live” for the first time
after two years following the pandemic, had attracted exhibitors and buyers from far and near.

“Italy is our partner country this year and as you can see their presence has been quite
impressive. We are open to other countries also showcasing their products under the “partner
country” participation, including collectively by a group of countries belonging to a particular
region,” he said. This idea should appeal, particularly, to groupings such as the ASEAN and the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC).

Lynch, who held various positions at the SFA in the last 22 years before being appointed
President, has also been keeping track of similar trade shows held in other countries, including
leading shows such as the SIAL Paris (France), the ANUGA Cologne (Germany), etc.
Highlighting some of the advantages accruing to exhibitors who participate in the NYFFS, Lynch
said that his team also closely monitors other international shows around the world. While
some industries are still struggling to recover from the disruptive impact of the pandemic
followed by the Russia/Ukraine crisis, demand for specialty foods had remained consistently strong during the pandemic.

“American consumers were buying specialty foods for home cooking … we also notice there has been strong demand for diversity … buyers are trending toward specialty foods,” he said. This could serve as a cue for Malaysian and ASEAN food suppliers interested to penetrate into the U.S. market.

Lynch pointed out that the turnover of U.S. specialty foods in 2021 had touched a whopping $
175 billion, up from $150 billion in 2020; this figure does not include regular food products.
Indeed, the overall food market is much larger in value terms.

The SFA President noted that Asian cuisines were enjoying popularity in the U.S. “The younger
consumers are interested in exploring new foods but they are also becoming health conscious.
Plant-based foods are also becoming popular,” he said.

According to Lynch, the SFA also provides special display facilities to those overseas exhibitors
who are unable to physically come to New York to participate because of the travel costs or the
distance involved or any other factor. The facility could especially benefit Malaysian exhibitors
whose interest to showcase their products at the NYFFS is precluded by the sharply-risen
airfares and other costs.

“The exhibitors can send their products here so enable buyers can look at them and establish
contact with the suppliers. This can enable them to establish contacts with potential buyers,”
he said.

Indeed, the SFA would provide “every possible guidance or help” to enable foreign exhibitors
navigate their way to the trade show.

Lynch said that the outlook for 2022 and 2023 remained good. “We see non-alcoholic
beverages for all age groups gaining (in popularity. Plant-based products, as I said earlier, are
becoming popular. Sun-flower seed powder is another popular product this year though we do
not know how long this trend will continue,” he said.