Editorial: Musings from Recent Events - August 2005

By Len Monheit
[email protected]

The month of July was a busy one, as it usually is for this industry. Some did the entire road show circuit, from NNFA in Las Vegas to IFT in New Orleans to the NBJ Newport Summit in Laguna Niguel, California. Others did one or two of these and returned to base for follow up.

NNFA, as I have already noted in a previous column, was a decent industry event, with good coverage of breaking industry issues and concerns. The tradeshow itself provided, especially the first day, enough traffic to justify being there, at least for us (NPIcenter). I feel parts of the industry other than retailers would have attended in higher numbers, had the event not directly clashed with the Institute of Food technologists event in New Orleans. By this I refer to trade media, services (analytical, marketing etc) and the raw material supply community. Now, the ingredient suppliers group was never a strong contingent at the NNFA show, but as GMPs become reality and certain value chain relationships change, and as legislation affects us all, a heightened supply presence at the show would certainly be a bonus. Fortunately, for those that want to participate next year, that opportunity will be available, as the IFT event in Orlando has been moved up several weeks to near the end of June.

IFT itself was a little disappointing overall, possibly the effect of high expectations and not accounting for the distractions of New Orleans. (Next year in Orlando could be the same). One significant note was that for the first time in the show hall, there was a ‘Healthy Ingredients’ pavilion, which had some decent traffic, mostly on the Monday of the show. With a few exceptions, the buzz on the show floor was mostly about trans-fat alternatives and low calorie sweeteners. When healthful ingredients were considered, it was primarily in the context of fiber sources although pre and probiotics got a bit of attention. Of note was the presence and buzz created by Ocean Nutrition Canada with their MEG-3™ fish oil product for food applications, and I was pleased to note more ingredient companies on the nutritional side ‘getting it’ by presenting great tasting food concepts with their nutritional ingredients (such as Cognis). In general though, I expected more interest from food companies in healthy ingredients. Certainly, I expected momentum from previous years to keep going, but I got a sense that much of it has stalled. As I said, perhaps that is due to attention focused elsewhere such as on trans-fats and sweeteners. It will be interesting to see what conclusions we can draw as New Hope hosts their second Health Foods Conference (http://www.healthyfoodsconference.com/) associated with Expo East in September. The first conference showed promise with major food companies interacting with and showing interest in healthy portfolios including ingredients.

Switching gears for a second, let’s examine the 8th annual NBJ Newport Summit, held this year, in Laguna Niguel, California. Always a stimulating experience and phenomenal networking venue, this year was no exception. Partly due to the location (the RitzCarletonDanaPoint) the event was sold out (actually oversold) with a lot of guests in attendance as well, which created quite a crowd. Even considering just the actual attendees, the numbers were at a record level, and it was a challenge to network and meet them all, despite several informal events. The event is now probably as large as it should be, as any larger, and it will lose some of the intimacy (and exclusivity) that provides its core value. The mix of people is always changing, and I found it personally interesting to note the presence of food service along with supplement and food folks, as well as companies who made it clear either that they are aggressively seeking acquisition candidates, or are ready to make a statement within the industry with key new product introductions.

As far as the content is concerned, it remains different from any other event in the industry – deliberately so. If attendees are looking for a regulatory recap or a research review, they are disappointed. If they are seeking stimulating lateral thinking opportunities, they generally get what they want. This year, Laurence Kotlikoff, author of ‘The Coming Generational Storm: What you Need to Know About America’s Economic Future’ presented facts and thoughts about the healthcare crisis and economic and other implications, facing the United States, with some transferability to other countries.

Probably the most acclaimed speaker over the two day conference was Henry Burdick, Chairman of Herbalife International. Speaking about his days with Pharmavite and Pharmanex and his ongoing role within Herbalife, Burdick’s presentation was enlightening, engaging and thought provoking.

For the first time, Summit organizers broke up the group into breakout sessions , responding to feedback in previous years that such breakouts would allow more interaction and participation. That was certainly the case as participants first listened to a presentation by Sterling Rice group entitled ‘Forces Colliding’ which examined the myriad forces impacting the industry and its opportunities. The breakout sessions focused on 1) The Emerging Demographic and Economic Landscape 2) Emerging Issues in Technology and Product Adoption and 3) The New Innovation Landscape. From all reports the breakouts were successful, enjoyed and should be continued. Feedback also suggested that a bit more expectation planning and communication as well as organization up front of the sessions, and if possible, longer breakout periods as well as a reconvene discussion, would be appreciated.

This event was definitely worthwhile, thought provoking and non-traditional (and about as large as it ideally should get).

Heading into the fall event schedule, I’m certainly looking forward to the CRN annual conference in September and an expanded WorldNutra in October. And of course there’s Natural Products Expo East (and Healthy Foods) also in September, as well as Stagnito’s and Prepared Foods New Products Conferences.

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