Editorial: That's Why We Do the Things We Do

By Len Monheit

From an event standpoint, it’s been a quiet six weeks so far in 2006.

That’s all about to change. Many companies will launch their ’06 event calendar in the next several weeks and even now are in the throes of frantic planning and scheduling.

Each year, companies re-evaluate event participation (exhibiting, presentations, and just attendance) and with the number of possible events increasing every year some tough decisions need to be made. With costs per event rising (travel etc), and numerous smaller and more intimate symposia also appearing, industry’s standard “I’ll do the six event swing” no longer applies. (The six events for some include Expo East and West, SupplySide East and West, NNFA and IFT.) From New Products Conferences, The Newport Summit, Focus on the Future, NNFA Regional Shows, Food and Specialty Food shows, there are a myriad of opportunities to spend finite dollars – and what you do will depend obviously on your objectives, the sectors you’re trying to reach, the size of your organization, the depth of your organization, the status of your company with respect to product development, your budget, your history, your sales force, your relationships, the status of your regulatory compliance activities and numerous other factors.

The argument ‘Because we always have’, in most cases, no longer applies - each event gets evaluated on cost and opportunity and its own merits, largely based on content (relevance), who is presenting and who else is going to be there (networking/business development opportunity).

The upcoming Natural Products Expo West, SupplyExpo, Nutracon is an interesting study. Expo West is the biggest industry event, essentially a ‘no-brainer’ for most companies, at least for attendance. The meeting provides an excellent opportunity for sales meetings, extensive customer connections, and for those that are interested, a decent review of regulatory developments that impact the industry and individual businesses. If you’re introducing a new product, the ready market available at this event makes it the most desirable venue, especially for a finished product. For ingredient suppliers that missed a SupplySide West ingredient launch or breaking science story, SupplyExpo ahs become the industry’s second largest ingredient event with a dynamic show floor and increasing levels of participation from Expo West manufacturers sending their product development staff next door to find out what’s new or with specific objectives in mind. The retailer connection, for those trying to brand with retailers, has not been as effective as hoped, but the ‘all under one roof’ approach makes it possible, on the show floor and in seminars, to do value chain information exchange in a format offered by no other industry event. Returning to SupplyExpo itself for a second, with a critical mass of ingredient distributors on the floor, a west coast venue, the deepest audience penetration of any North American event (business management, research, product development, sales, marketing etc), expect to see the trend from the past few years dramatically continue – this is now a fine, viable, exciting, essential ingredient event.

Nutracon is another story. This event has, depending on your point of view, either evolved, or devolved over the past five years. It still draws its core several hundred attendees, has dabbled in the past with presentations on organics that were non-core to the ‘Nutra’ audience, has struggled to integrate in timing and philosophy with the co-located events, and in short, has not quite lived up to billing and expectations.

So what about this year?

Refocusing the event into two tracks, ‘food’ and ‘bioactives’ is definitely a step in the right direction. The NutrAward continues to gain in traction and popularity, and last year’s product innovation and ideation sessions are incorporated into this year’s program, but oriented towards the twin tracks of ‘food’ and ‘bioactives’, which hopefully will allow great participation, and more importantly, excellent, practical take-away.

Innovation itself is the theme for several other presentations, including innovation in functional cosmetics, nanotechnology and increased bioavailability, nutrigenomics, and Gary Stein of BuzzMetrics talking about’ Insights on Future Health and Nutrition Product Development Trends’. This theme of practical product development, innovation and setting the stage for future success on a practical product level is especially dominant this year.

As in previous years, though, Nutracon is not for everyone. Many companies don’t have the positioning, need or personnel to take value from it. Many companies have participated over previous years and have developed other vehicles (internal and external) to tap into processes and approaches to product development and market enhancement.

There is no one source of ideation in any industry. The act is the sum of all experiences and inputs – and Nutracon is unique in much of the information and environment it produces and contributes to the ideation process. While new industry concepts and product ideas are not generated at Nutracon itself, the event has provided the stimulus for product success for many companies (and entrepreneurs) that have attended..

Whatever the course your organization chooses, and the events at which you participate in this year, it’s an interesting exercise to measure specifically what you get from the various venues. Of course, for each one, there’s cost plus opportunity cost – so the value equation can get complex. The real interesting thing though, is that each event is distinct and unique and each year, a value judgment ideally must be made anew. The market has changed, the event and cost have changed, the personnel and their capabilities have changed, but most importantly, especially in a dynamic, evolving marketplace, the opportunity has changed.

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