Editorial: Musings From SupplySide East

By Len Monheit

This has been a thought provoking week. First, a successful SupplySide East prompts a re-examination of industry events strategy. Next, frustration runs rampant – at vicious media distortion, and at a relative inability to shore up quality deficiencies which continue to prevent efficacious products from reaching the market.

Let’s talk first about the show itself. The move back to New Jersey was a relative ‘no-brainer’. Baltimore, despite being a fabulous city with an excellent conference venue, was not working. Returning to New Jersey would let the show go back to a hub area where numerous companies could make day trips and Virgo could get deep penetration with multiple attendees covering supplements, foods and personal care. And that’s exactly what happened, from a very dynamic show opening to a slower, but still decent Day Two. Almost all of the exhibitors I spoke with were pleasantly surprised; several ‘wait and see’ exhibitors walking the show this time indicated they are likely to exhibit next year. Major and title sponsors received excellent visibility including Embria Health Sciences, and for any company looking to really stand out in a smaller venue (big fish in a little pond) this was an excellent chance.

As far as novelty is concerned, personally I didn’t see overly much with the possible exception of Epicor™ from Embria Health Sciences, a few new product introductions from Kyowa Hakko USA and emphasis on natural Vitamin K2, led by P.L. Thomas. The opportunity for exhibitors to meet with East Coast based companies that has been absent from industry events for a few years was a key driver and value proposition.

Regarding the venue itself, this was a major impetus for the move to Baltimore. Secaucus show floor limitations and sadly lacking show infrastructure hampered the show again, but the entire event was carried off well, exceeding most expectations. I personally didn’t like the flow of the reception (held in the show floor area itself). For me, one of the benefits of having a different venue for a reception is that it allows you to mingle with the entire show crowd in a neutral environment conducive to networking, rather than with just one’s show neighbors. (Someone had to watch the booth.)

From an educational content standpoint, several key issues were raised including ingredient quality and industry involvement in looming AER legislation, a general regulatory update, and supplement impact on health care systems. All of these are valuable, but I think that it is indicative of some lack of commitment on the part of some of the ingredient community that generally only 35-45 people attended most of the sessions and the State of the Industry was also not a packed room. This apathy and disinterest should be a concern, and we, as an industry cannot justify it by saying that everyone knows things already. If they knew it already, companies wouldn’t be submitting NDIs for finished products or for ingredients that have been safely on the market for twenty five years.

Apathy also extends to those aware of business practices detrimental to our industry. This includes adulteration, as well as major organizations in this industry continuing to knowingly purchase and make inferior, lower priced, non-efficacious products – a practice that indicates such short-sightedness and lack of vision that it must surely baffle those committed to industry’s long term success – all in all a very frustrating environment.

The state of the industry discussion was a good, quick recap of several important issues and crises. Those attending got a good synopsis of state and federal issues (legislative and regulatory) and an attempt at dispelling adverse event reporting myths. As I mentioned in my blog earlier this week, I am glad industry is at the table for AER discussions and the associations understand the importance of getting Serious AER legislation resolved to diffuse some of the arguments and opposition industry faces. I will reiterate my hope that there is a proactive plan in place for the ‘what then’ eventuality as whatever information is generated in an AER reporting system is predictably abused by the FDA, the media and other industry detractors. They’ve misused information in the past – why should this be an exception?

In talking with several fellow editors, it seems apparent that industry is in a ‘wait and see’ cycle in general with an intuitive sense suggesting that product introductions are down, compliance costs are largely unknown, and that current efforts are being spent as much if not more on strengthening existing relationships, rather than aggressively building new ones.

As the week progressed, the buoyant nature of SupplySide East exceeding expectations was overshadowed by discussions and frustration over the ABC News Series which aired several evenings. Warned by a call for anecdotes involving children’s supplement use issued by ABC last week, industry and presumably all supplement users were extremely surprised at the biased, malicious reporting offered by the network. The Dietary Supplements Education Alliance (DSEA) has issued a Call to Action to Respond to this coverage (http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=15544&zoneid=2) and personally, I cannot help but be struck by the irony that the blog financing (http://blogs.abcnews.com/theworldnewser/2006/05/taking_your_vit.html) is, in part, being subsidized by (borderline at best) Google weight loss adds.

Irony aside, the coverage is further proof that there are ongoing deliberate attempts at discrediting our industry, its products and its practices. These issues and companies involved in borderline or illegal practices all reflect on each other, meaning that improper practices employed by anyone within the industry, reflect on the industry as a whole. Dealing specifically with ABC News, while our lobby and ad dollars are not as powerful as other sectors (some of which have had obvious impact on the story’s slant), perhaps an industry avoidance of ABC and those organizations affiliated with ABC is justified as a response to this attack. At the very least, I hope we see a continued response in the form of letters and blog postings.

Returning to SupplySide East observations, it would be surprising to me if requests for booths for next year will be up significantly. How Virgo will respond to this pressure will be interesting as they deal with pretty much a sold out exhibit hall. Also interesting will be the determination of the numbers of attendees that came this year out of novelty (first time in New Jersey in several years) rather than an ongoing commitment to Secaucus participation.

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