By Len Monheit
What a frantic week.
Beginning with Healthy Foods on Wednesday, my own personal experience at Expo, was a whirlwind – as per usual. I left Saturday feeling that I had done a decent job of making my meetings, a barely adequate job on the floor, an inadequate job of taking in some of the sessions, and a good job of the networking and experience that is really Expo. I can rationalize that many of the speakers I wanted to hear (but did not) are colleagues that I am in ongoing dialogue with and so while my lack of attendance might have been noticed by them, and I am unable to get the context in which they framed their presentations, I am at least a bit ‘in the know’ already on the market, regulatory and political situations they described.
My general takeaway from Healthy Foods is that this continues to be an area to watch, and with both small and large food companies in a reasonably active audience, presentations on children’s nutrition, food service and from concept to product (navigating science, and marketing / brand development etc.) seemed to be well received. It’s interesting to note that this theme of navigating from ‘concept to product’ appeared to be an interesting one even in the main Expo event, with well over a hundred eager attendees listening to Anthony Almada and Jeff Hilton talking about pitfalls and challenges in this process.
In the supplement world, we are in an environment with serious pending regulatory impact. Numerous events in recent months (info sessions and webinars) have attempted to prepare manufacturers and service companies for what they will soon face under new GMP guidelines and AER legislation (FDA is now officially ‘late’ on the guidance in this are they are required under law to provide), and while the room was adequately filled for the GMP presentation, I would have expected more of an overflowing crowd for absolutely anything having to deal with the regulations. I guess my rationale for the less than (what I) expected attendance was either: a busy show schedule, conflicts, adequate participation at previous or other information sessions, lack of interest, lack of urgency, the desire to wait for further FDA clarification (there are satellite calls in the very near future for this purpose), or some combination of the above. I certainly hope it is mostly those excuses at the end of the above list, but I suspect I might be overly optimistic in that expectation. (As it turns out, we are still hearing companies explain, “We have three years to comply”, so the art of procrastination and avoiding reality is alive and well in the supplements world.)
From sources, I hear that the session dealing with Food Safety was poorly attended, and this really baffles me. Once again, I’m certain a variety of reasons can apply, but if our collective industries are not watching the issue of food safety and considering the market and business implications (food and supplement), then I fear they’re missing a fundamental signpost that in turn gives rise to a myriad of forces that will affect us all. Whether it’s legislation currently being developed on Capital Hill (and rest assured that legislation on this subject will have international ramifications, so this is not a US only issue), or whether it’s a dialogue regarding the advantages of organic-like traceability of raw material supply, the potential impact and opportunity to those following this issue is huge. One outcome of this discussion is the providing of further momentum to the ‘think globally, act locally’ market force quickly becoming a driver.
Presumably, this ‘buy local’ market movement, at some point, will translate to a ‘buy who you know’ proposition, leading to increased pull and value for certifications with meaning, and ultimately stronger supply chains. After all, this chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the collapse of the supply chain for a particular item in a finished market will scald the reputations of all those upstream. There is potential for this paradigm shift of ‘quality upstream’ to also apply to retailers.
On another subject, what would be the outcome if all manufacturers were required to fully disclose all countries of inputs in all food products? With the convoluted input process that is the reality for most food and supplement products, requiring this labeling, in the current environment, will only serve to further confound confused and fearful consumers. Can you imagine a product with inputs from 20 countries?
In recent years, globalization has often become a nasty word, depicting in some cases ‘have countries’ exploiting ‘have not countries’ for economic benefit at social or other cost. Global forces, though, are a reality that not even the most hyper-protective can ignore. They were evident last week at Expo, they exist everywhere in our current reality and business environment, and they will impact us all – whether we’re operating in the US market or not and whether the product is ‘olive oil’ from Italy, goji from China, chondroitin from Europe or ginseng from the United States.
As usual, Expo in Baltimore was a connection point, a chance to measure issues, responses, challenges, opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, buzz. Analyzing the ‘buzz-meter’, we’re in for an eventful next 18 months, the cost to do business is going up, international developments will affect us all, and through Vitamin Angels, nourish America and other initiatives, we collectively still have the opportunity to dramatically improve the human health condition.