Editorial: More About Healthy Foods

By Len Monheit

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend, for the first time, the Healthy Foods European Summit (London, October 23-24 - www.healthyfoodssummit.com ). Let me start by saying that I have had the chance to attend four of these in North America, and really didn’t know whether to expect a similar event, or one totally dissimilar, in content, style and attendance. As one might expect, it went right down the middle. I’m not going to try to give a complete report, merely provide some highlights and observations.

One of the opening presentations was provided by Dr. David Hughes, whom I’ve now had the privilege of hearing on several occasions. Dr. Hughes inevitably, in a very engaging style, presents some emerging and future trends and issues to watch, with specific market examples and observations. In addition to commenting on big brands’ healthy initiatives, Dr. Hughes went on to speak of satiety, digestive health, ‘simple natural’, indulgency, and the concept of ‘food doctor’, and the conference went on from there.

Day Two leadoff presenter Peter Wennstrom would also have several emerging trends and dynamics to discuss, including the look good/feel good concept, weight management product promise, as well as guideline eating. He observed that many of the major health issues which consumers are concerned about are not only health conditions, they also include lifestyle issues such as tiredness and stress, with the expectation that through proper eating, they will gain a measure of control over these issues.

OxfordUniversity’s Dr. Alex Richardson made an excellent presentation on food, mood and cognitive function, in which she spoke at length of the role of EPA and DHA in functions such as hormone balance, which might go a long way to explaining the positive studies on mood as well as cognitive function.

Predictably, issues such as children’s nutrition were very much a hot topic, as attendees took a look, from a variety of perspectives, at some of the implication of upcoming regulations in this area. Most notable was the general stance that while responsible marketing is obviously critical in this area, a worse case scenario of the interpretation of pending EU legislation would have even product names obviously intended for children’s consumption (even descriptive rather than overtly promotional or sensational) severely restricted, despite the fact that it would be mothers presumably doing the shopping for these products.

Another angle that correlated well with observations in North America was the fact that in the pendulum swing of regulations, in a fear and risk driven marketplace, ‘wonder of wonders’, regulators like to regulate. Should we therefore be surprised that in many jurisdictions around the world, in food and healthy food development and marketing, we’re facing prescriptive regulations? Participants discussed how one was to accomplish the goal of education in these restrictive times, a subject with global relevance.

A couple of general observations:

Active participation of the retailer community, through individual retailers and organizations, was exceptional and provided excellent, close to the ultimate market, observations.

As a recent participant in a Canadian forum that discussed education of consumers and the various methodologies available without overt marketing, I was intrigued to hear a presentation of the UK’s traffic light system for healthier food labeling. Even more interesting was the face that industry apparently was now reformulating products moving away from ‘red’ foods’ in the direction of ‘green foods’, allegedly as a direct result of the light system.

On a related subject, the entire concept of nutrient profiling (how to categorize a product based on its nutritional composition - good ingredients plus bad) was quite interesting. I have not yet had time to complete my research, but I understand that the model put forth by Belgium on this subject appears to have some promise. (https://portal.health.fgov.be/portal/page?_pageid=56,7422388&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&_MENU=menu_6_4_1 – Plan National Nutrition Sante)

I also heard for the first time about Article 18 of the EU regulations, which industry is hoping provides accelerated authorization for company/product specific health claims utilizing new science, IP and submission of proprietary data. The discussion determined that the experts don’t know when this mechanism will be active and finally whether it will in effect be a short track or not.

On both sides of the ocean, sustainability is a major concern.

I finally heard a presentation on nutrigenomics that aligned science with practical reality and didn’t try to announce pending commercial viability of the science as a diagnostic and product development tool. (Thanks to Dr. DeAnn Liska, of Ocean Spray)

The issue of ‘eating local’ currently an emerging force in North American marketplaces, didn’t seem to be as driving a force in Europe, perhaps do to the overwhelming concern of harmonization and market access. (Maybe it just wasn’t quite on the radar.)

In understanding consumer behavior, the concept of improving ‘food literacy’ was discussed. We’ve certainly seen evidence of this around the globe with increasing attention being paid to labels, actually one of the benefits of the ‘low-carb’ era.

I was especially intrigued by the argument that the tide might be right for a new (better) dialogue on GM foods, one that might lead to almost immediate widespread acceptance.

Overall, this was an extremely worthwhile two days which underscored observations from the north American event a few weeks earlier but also provided new insights into the current European environment.

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