By Len Monheit
It’s been evident for some time that the breakthroughs of the 21st century will occur at the intersection between spheres of knowledge and expertise. Applying research and understanding in one field to a different application or problem in either a related or even a non-related field can trigger tremendous leaps.
This means that is no longer adequate for a company to have total specialization and rely on that specialization to bring success, new product introduction, fame and fortune. The company must continuously be looking outside for best practices or new technology, applications or paradigm, often new partners or alliances that will help them think outside the box. At the convergence of ideas--at that collaborative, brainstorming juncture, leaps occur that change our society dramatically.
The unraveling of the genome and the resulting applications in proteomics, bioinformatics, genomeceuticals and other fields will have tremendous implications. Combining physics, materials technology and biology has led to new applications in biomechanics and other areas. Similarly, developments in process technology and nutraceuticals will impact consumer products, foods, beverages and cosmetics.
Nowhere was this more evident than at the recently concluded IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) Conference in Anaheim. This annual meeting and exposition featured hundreds of booths, posters, technical sessions and opportunities to explore a sector of industry I think we’ll be hearing much more about. And obviously, I’m not the only one thinking so, as seminar rooms and the tradeshow hall were visited by many familiar faces from the natural products / dietary supplements industry.
What do these people know, and what are they looking for? Where is the ‘crossover’ and what direction is the flow?
Answering the first question—the best answers are often arrived at from challenging status quo. To answer the second, I would suggest these pathfinders are looking for ideas and opportunity. The ‘crossover’ point includes new concepts and ingredients into food and new technology and even applications for supplements and natural products. This answers the final question--the flow goes both ways, as it so often does.
Ironically, regular IFT attendees commented that the show contained nothing new. Sound familiar? Those that were promoting convergence between our industries generally kept it low key, as if afraid of risk and being perceived as too far out there. And of course, there were the regular complaints about traffic, show frequency, too much academic attendance rather than hard core buyers, lack of consumer and trade education and numerous other comments we’ve heard frequently.
I was struck by the number of times I heard the word ‘GRAS’ (Generally Recognized as Safe) to describe food ingredients especially those coming from the traditional natural products industry. I noticed that taste, texture, productivity, delivery, presentation, nutritional benefit, color, and many other factors are controllable, quite often using a combination of natural ingredients and innovation. This means that good taste and texture and decent and measurable bioavailability may be within reach for many products and ingredients in both sectors.
Several industry companies made announcements of new products or agreements including Kemin Foods announcing new GRAS categories and that Country Pure Foods, Sunsweet and Ross Products were offering new beverages with eye health benefits. FloraGLO Lutein Achieves GRAS Status for Seven New Food Categories. I hope many more companies are quick to follow their example and opportunity with other ingredients and categories.
And as I was leaving Anaheim, one of my final conversations was with someone looking for innovative products, supported by research and patent position for incorporation into the next generation of food products.
The crossover opportunity, I firmly believe, goes both ways. The convergence of industries should mean better, more appealing, more effective products in both sectors, leading to more satisfied consumers.