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Top takeaways from the 2012 NBJ Summit

Top takeaways from the 2012 NBJ Summit

The annual NBJ Summit’s 15th annual midsummer classic last week gathers the nutrition industry’s heavies in a relaxed retreat-like atmosphere to foster casual conversations amidst networking breaks and the ever-hungry V.C. crowd looking for the next big thing to throw money at.

There were fascinating conversations both of the official variety, up on stage miked up for the audience of some 400 C-level players to consume, as well as the unofficial variety, from the golf tournament course to Newport Harbor and the lush hotel balconies overlooking the Pacific.

Some of my observations from the "nutrition-arti" include Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., recipient of the NBJ Summit’s education award, who reiterated his insight that what we have in America is not a health-care system but rather “a disease-treatment system with a bias toward pharmaceuticals and surgery.”

Bland said that although the pharma industry is about 10 times as large as the supplements world, natural medicine “will win the war, because truth always wins out.”

What trends will drive future growth?

NBJ Editor-in-Chief Marc Brush said the drivers of business growth of the next 10 years are natural and organic food as well as pet food. At the ingredient level, he noted the top nutrients are omega-3s and probiotics. “Who’s the next of the industry’s archetypes?” he asked rhetorically.

One answer might have been suggested from keynote speaker Daniel Amen, M.D., a neuroscientist with a novel brain scanning technology most famous for helping the NFL come to terms with the concussion issue. Amen has put together a formula for retired football players including weight loss for obese players, a healthy diet, exercise, a multivitamin, 5.6g omega-3s, and a concoction including vinpocetine, carnitine, huperzine-A and alpha-lipoic acid. The results show that 86 percent of players show improvement in as little as two months.

“What I learned about the brain scans we do is you have to take your supplements,” said Amen. “Supplements for cognitive health makes a lot of sense to me.”

NBJ Summit co-chair Tom Aarts noted that the brain space represents the greatest gap between consumer need and products to fill that need. Amen’s address had to wake up some companies to the potential for profitability addressing this concern.

Amen also had a passionate prosecution of today’s mainstream food offerings.

“Everywhere you turn in our society someone is trying to shove toxic food down your throat,” he said.

To that end, Brush noted  “food science heroes” including blueberries, chocolate, almonds, lentils, beets, chia, kale and collard greens.

Industry optimism

I’ve previously written about the changing food-world zeitgeist, toward natural, nutrient-dense, whole foods. Cannacord Genuity researcher Rodney Clark echoed that sentiment in his summation about the current state of economic and societal affairs.

“Capital markets continue to experience volatility, there’s high unemployment, eroded consumer confidence, a European debt crisis, a domestic real estate market softness and the coming election,” said Clark. “Yet we’re still optimistic about the nutrition industry. The broader nutrition industry is really getting our due now.”

As for the future, attorney Ivan Wasserman summarized the recent POM Wonderful battle with the FTC, saying that the judge ruling on the fight concluded that the “FTC cannot require the FDA to preauthorize” supplements before they hit the market.

That didn’t stop Brush from forecasting that the future of the industry, absent any additional legislation, could include a pre-market registration system, a pre-market GMP inspection paradigm and a pre-market proof of safety – none of which, even combined, would turn DSHEA on its head by mandating pre-market approval per se to launch a product.

Will any of this come to pass? It remains to be seen. As Wasserman suggested companies get on board with, invest in GMP compliance and clinical trials, verify health claims and that what’s in your product is actually in your product, and continue to support trade organizations which were a leading force in getting the FDA to agree to reissue its New Dietary Ingredient guidance document over industry hue-and-cry.

Share what you learned at the NBJ Summit in the comments below. We'd love to hear your thoughts!

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