Editorial: IFT Preview Thoughts

By Len Monheit

As the IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo approaches (Institute of Food Technologists, www.ift.org, Chicago, IL, July 28 – August 1, 2007), it’s appropriate to consider how effective the nutritional products industry, especially supply companies, have been in getting on both the radar and agenda of this huge annual food event in recent years.

First of all, some comments on the event itself are probably in order. In the past few years, this annual show has been held in venues that were not huge draws, leading to sub-par attendance and therefore presumably value to exhibitors. This year, the event returns to Chicago, which always draws well, and where numbers between 35,000 and 45,000 attendees are expected. Examination of the show floor indicates that there are approximately 100 exhibitors that we are very familiar with and numerous others offering organic or healthier ingredient options as part of their portfolio. This reaffirms the trend in recent years, one entirely predictable, and in fact, predicted. It was at least three years ago that the first Healthy Ingredients pavilion appeared on the show floor and a couple of years since companies within the natural, nutritional space realized that they too, like their mainstream food ingredient competition, needed to provide concept foods to ensure that the show audience realized that healthy did not mean a taste sacrifice.

So are we actually making headway, or are market forces simply creating obvious opportunities, or is the growth potential being capitalized upon by more mainstream suppliers who are extending their offerings into a more healthful direction?

One can persuasively argue that all three are in fact happening, and that companies accepting ‘turn-key responsibilities’ are succeeding in gaining market traction and relationships. One needs only to examine the headlines on an almost weekly basis to note the advances that Martek, Ocean Nutrition Canada and Cargill (to name a few) are making as their functional ingredients become incorporated into new product formats. With the popularity of organic continuing to rise, and with natural ‘whatever that is deemed to mean) associated with health, greening, sustainability and other tangible and intangible benefits, one sees continued opportunities over the next few years.

The topic of berries and superfruits continues to be a popular one. The inherent health benefits of fruits (not unlike some grains) make it a relatively simple consumer grasp and there are signs that emerging science will continue to build a substantiation platform that will only increase the market opportunity. Fiber and alternative sweeteners also seem to be doing quite well. In addition, there is evidence that the North American consumer may be ready, in a mainstream way, to accept the health benefits of probiotics.

A rash of recent acquisitions and programs has positioned major food brands to participate in the healthy foods arena like never before. This should theoretically bode extremely well for companies offering healthier ingredients and related solutions. Reality dictates though that as the opportunity increases, so too do expectations. By this I mean that not only is a neutral taste profile and platform to facilitate regulatory compliance the price of entry. That price has now gone up and includes formulation expertise and potentially pre-blending strategies, consumer data and pull-through evidence and ongoing technical support at minimum.

Having said that, I would expect ‘our companies’ to be, for the most part, successful. I’ll touch base in a few weeks to talk about how much so.

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