By Len Monheit
This past week, for the first time, I had the chance to participate in VitaFoods in Geneva, Switzerland. This annual event has grown significantly over recent years (some sources cited a 20% increase in attendees and booths this year over last) and unlike FI Europe several months ago, really did focus on our world of functional ingredients including a very well rounded services area and an emerging center for finished products on the show floor.
The Conference program, supported by Leatherhead International, had approximately 220 attendees (for the sessions I was in on) and special exhibitor-presented seminars took place right in the show hall, with great noise control and good audience participation. A special presentation Thursday morning (day 3 of the show) drew about 180 or so attendees to listen to a talk show style presentation on “key issues affecting the food and nutrition sector” with a focus on pending regulatory decisions and implications including health and nutrition claims, maximum nutrient levels, novel foods, botanicals and special products, novel foods and labeling.
This three day show had good attendance day one and two, with a serious drop off some attributed in part to a French holiday on the final day. In reality, most decision makers had already vacated, having concluded both previously scheduled and impromptu business discussions. Several exhibitors I spoke to confirmed written commitments received on show floor to cover their show investments multiple times over. One of the well-done aspects of the event was the pavilion-style setup with over 20 countries and several user groups organized in this fashion. Some obviously did better than others, and theoretically, one could navigate the show floor moving only from hot individual booths to hot pavilions, bypassing those of lesser interest. In this manner, it is likely that many exhibitors received very poor traffic. From a traffic standpoint, making the observation as an exhibitor at back of hall, we saw most of the people we wanted to see, and that includes supplement, food, beverage and nutricosmetic users from all continents – truly a global opportunity event, much more global than any current North American venue.
On the show-floor itself, one was struck by several observations. First, the jockeying for position of contract manufacturers is alive and well, in most regions in Europe and to a lesser extent (at least from this event) elsewhere in the world. Secondly, the market is global when it comes to ingredient and application sourcing, delivery and substantiation. Finally, there are opportunities in all final format fields that functional ingredients cover including supplement, food, beverage and nutricosmetics. In this respect it all depends on hwo you talk to and how you frame the question. There is no doubt that nutricosmetics is alive and well and a market focus for many ingredient companies operating or looking to operate in Europe. The market too is evolved in that more than ‘natural’ and ‘organic’, very sophisticated practices, marketing techniques and use of science is occurring which leads to more near term potential for this category than in other areas around the world. The number of targeted personal care ingredients and applications was significant and the level of firms operating in this field was quite high. More than offering replacement ingredients, they had, in many cases, an understanding of the level of market commitment required to be partners of leading (nutri)cosmetic companies.
Some other observations include the proliferation of the omega-3 category and expended presence of many of the companies operating in this category, and the number of familiar faces on the show floor. The latter certainly reinforces the fact that the globalization of our industry is more than just identifying international sourcing opportunities. In fact, it is all about developing the network of relationship that can at times facilitate two-way trade, at other times, mutually expand networks, relationships and opportunities, and at other time, take advantage of immediate market forces and needs to secure that once in a lifetime business deal.
One final word about the panel discussion highlights:
When discussing the importance of the Thursday morning regulatory session to the world of functional ingredients and their applications, discussion host Simon Pettman observed that the EU is currently in a position to export much of its current or evolving regulatory model. Panelists also discussed, significantly, the importance of all companies operating globally to be very familiar and vested with the regulatory environment. How else can research and new product development activities be evaluated and justified? How else can staffing and production expansion (or retraction) be contemplated without ignorance? How else can the product launch process be developed and fine-tuned? It was also made very clear through the discussion that regulators are looking globally and so information sharing on a global basis by industry is paramount. Industry needs definitely to get better at the globalization process.
An interesting observation was made by host Pettman at one point during the exchange when he pointed out an issue that may account for regulatory challenges currently observed around the globe in our sector. “Good regulations are easy to enforce, while bad regulations are difficult or impossible”. Perhaps these are words to think about as we consider enforcement challenges and gaps to the detriment of industry success.
Concluding this was a very worthwhile event and growing concern. It will be interesting to observe next year when I have a basis of comparison and NPIcenter has continued to expand its global involvement.