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Ambiente Eyes Asia as Concerns Remain Over European Demand

While sustainability was the watchword for many of the products at this year's Ambiente, one of Europe's largest consumer goods trade events, there remained lingering concerns over the sustainability of the European market.

Photo: Bags of Stuff available at Ambiente, courtesy of Kolor.
Bags of Stuff available at Ambiente, courtesy of Kolor.
Photo: Bags of Stuff available at Ambiente, courtesy of Kolor.
Bags of Stuff available at Ambiente, courtesy of Kolor.

Sustainability was the key theme of this year's Ambiente, one of the leading European trade fairs for the consumer goods sector. Perhaps with a degree of justice, the organisers of this Frankfurt-based event now bill it as the most significant sourcing platform for volume business outside of China. It's a lofty claim, though, and one that bears some examination.

Thankfully, there was much to see on the show floor that gave credence to the organisers' pitch. One of the first companies to catch the eye was Stef Fauser Design, a German business offering a sustainable line of bags, belts, seats, wallets and artistic pieces, all made from recycled bicycle tyre inner tubes. Explaining her business model, Stefanie Fauser, the founder of the business, said she collects inner tubes from about six bicycle shops in Berlin and then has the inner tubes all cut by hand. With her products currently distributed in Germany, Scandinavia and the US, she is now looking to develop business in the key Asian markets, including Hong Kong.

From Holland came Dopper, a Dutch social enterprise that promotes clean drinking water and aims to reduce plastic waste. The company launched Dopper, a reusable water bottle, four years ago and has since sold more than two million of them. Ilse Vonk, Dopper's Sales Director, said: "With Dopper, you'll immediately reduce plastic waste, because you'll never need a single-use water bottle again."

According to Vonk Dopper gives 5% of its net sales to drinking water projects, including contributing to a project in Nepal and, in 2014, it donated a total of around €190,000. She said the company was now looking to widen its distribution and has already recruited a US partner. The company has also received interest from distributors in Japan and Korea.

Bringing affordable design, quality and fun to otherwise ordinary eating and drinking occasions is the avowed aim of Seattle's Pacific Market International (PMI). Luis Moreno, the company's European Marketing Manager, said his aim at Ambiente was to promote the Aladdin brand, a range of items for every day entertaining, including bowls, trays, plates, accessories and tumblers.

The company already has a distinct Asian connection, with Moreno saying: "We have an office in Shanghai and we are very proud to manufacture in China." In addition to Aladdin, PMI also produces Migo, a brand targeted squarely at Chinese consumers.

Heritage was more the issue for Fissler, a German cookware brand that is celebrating its 170th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, the company chose Ambiente as the setting to launch its limited edition Symphony in Red range.

In term of future aspirations, Alexander Melsheimer, Director of Fissler's International Business Division, said developing sales in the Asian market had been its core strategy over the last five or six years. Clarifying its current plans, he said: "We run subsidiaries in China, Korea and Japan and we work with other companies in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In China, for example, Fissler is seen as a super premium brand and we have 250 shops across the mainland selling the brand. Asia will remain the core focus for Fissler for at least the next 10 years."

For Wesco, a German kitchenware company, Asia was once again the focus. Alfred Becker, the company's Export Sales Manager, said its Hong Kong-based business partner handles the Asia region, including sales to Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. Emphasising the importance of the region, he said: "Few countries in Europe are showing signs of growth. The company's business in Asia is very interesting, offering different demographics and lifestyles. Our accessories are doing very well in that market."

Photo: Reindeer mounts from Garden Glory.
Reindeer mounts from Garden Glory.
Photo: Reindeer mounts from Garden Glory.
Reindeer mounts from Garden Glory.
Photo: SACKit’s RETROit beanbag range.
SACKit's RETROit beanbag range.
Photo: SACKit’s RETROit beanbag range.
SACKit's RETROit beanbag range.

Among Wesco's new products at this year's event was the Miniball, a compact storage solution, and an oval version of its existing Spacy Tray model, a stylish kitchen disposal unit featuring ergonomic handles and a rubber-coated base.

Another German company debuting kitchenware at Ambient was B/R/K, which unveiled the Sizzle at the event, a new addition to its Cook Vision range. The Sizzle is said to offer boiling, pressure-cooking and steaming all in a single cooking pot.

Berndt Schmidt, the inventor of the patented lid that ensures the product's versatility, said: "The Sizzle cooks more quickly – the reason for this is that its lid closes airtight, allowing the temperature in the pot to rise to above 100 degrees Celsius, accelerating the cooking process substantially."

From slightly further afield were the 120 companies from Hong Kong exhibiting at the event. Many of these, of course, were clustered in the Hong Kong Pavilions, organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Altogether, this initiative saw eight companies showing in the gift hall, while a further 23 exhibited in the housewares hall.

Among these was the Kowloon-based DAKA Group, which had brought it range of food preparation products to Frankfurt. According to Jesse Emery Chow, the group's Business Development Director, the company has exhibited at Ambiente for the last 10 years. Commenting on hopes for the 2015 event, he said: "We are looking for new distributors, as well as planning to meet with established customers. In particular, we are looking for distributors in the European Union. We are strong with TV channels and catalogue retailers in Europe, but we also want to recruit distributors that can actually get our products into stores."

Fellow Hong Kong company, Konstar Industries, which won a prestigious Red Dot Design Award for its Salad Master in 2014, said it, too, was looking for distributors in the EU. Carson Chan, Merchandising Manager, said the firm was promoting a number of new products to European distributors, including the Salad Master, the Super Apple Peeler and the Swift Drum Grater. The peeler and the grater both received honourable mentions in the 2014 Red Dot Design Awards.

Back with the European contignet and Garden Glory, a Swedish company, had on offer a range of premium garden hoses and reindeer wall mounts. Founded by Linda Brattlöf four years ago, the company now sells through 320 stores around the world. As with many other businesses, Brattlöf was keen to access the far eastern markets, saying: "Until now, we have not sold into Asia but we have now received interest from retailers in Hong Kong and Japan."

SACKit, Danish company, meanwhile, had on offer its RETROit beanbag range. According to the company, this is the only beanbag on the market to come with two divided compartments offering recliner-like seating. Kasper Øgaard Jensen, the company's Managing Director, said its products are currently available in Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, but he is now looking to appoint distributors in other territories.

Similarly, keen to extend its distributor base was Urban Junk, UK-based backpack manufacturer. Although only launched in 2012, the company already sells into Australia, Europe, New Zealand and the US. It is no surprise that it is now also looking to Asia. According to Sales Director Nazira Bemat the company received interest from a distributor in South Korea during its time at Ambiente, but is also looking to get the brand listed in Japan and Singapore.

Photo: Making the 11,500 mile round trip to Frankfurt, Hong Kong’s finest.
Making the 11,500 mile round trip to Frankfurt, Hong Kong's finest.
Photo: Making the 11,500 mile round trip to Frankfurt, Hong Kong’s finest.
Making the 11,500 mile round trip to Frankfurt, Hong Kong's finest.

Ambiente 2015 took place at Messe Frankfurt, Germany, from 13-17 February. The event attracted 4,811 exhibitors from 94 countries, as well as 135,000 buyers from 152 countries. Ambient returns to the same venue from 12-16 February 2016.

Simon King, Special Correspondent, Frankfurt

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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