By Len Monheit
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to present aspects of the natural health and nutritional products industry to a group of about 100 food companies at the Guelph Food Technology Centre in Canada. A key question posed was whether Canada's Natural Health Products Regulations offer an opportunity for food companies to reposition or introduce products using a health-claim based message, which these regulations require.
Of course there were several other 'sub-messages' and observations in the dialogue which took place. The interest on the part of small, medium and large food-industry companies to learn about the landscape, players, products, science and issues in general in 'our' industry was extremely reassuring, and gave me a sense of optimism that the 'convergence' in health, nutrition and wellness we have been talking about for several years may actually come about, and yes, we even talked a bit about the economic drivers that might bring this to fruition.
It was interesting to observe (again) frustration at regulatory stifling (Canada is extremely conservative and some might say backward as far as food regulations are concerned), so the prospects of a more forward thinking, efficacy based regulatory system (which is the caption under the Natural Health Products Directive) is extremely appealing. Despite the current resource challenged Natural Health Products Directorate and an extremely slow approval process, slipped deadlines, turn around times, and other manifestations of a concept 'great in theory, less so in reality', the level of optimism remains high that this model actually might eventually work, that it needs to be watched, and that an investment into the opportunities it represents might be warranted. If Red Bull and other energy drinks could use NHPD as their driver into the Canadian marketplace, then other product opportunities are also there - billions of dollars of opportunities.
The conversation this week was about much more than ‘omega-3's’ although this category is certainly a major catalyst for food sector interest. It is interesting to note that the health benefits of omega-3's are being almost universally (if generally) accepted, and in Canada, this is in an environment without any claim opportunity outside of the nutrient content claim. Does this mean that a claim is not required in order to grow the category?
The science making headlines and the repeated messaging both help, and there is, in fact, a qualified claim allowed in the United States. Canada is not in a vacuum and the reports from around the world make Canadian headlines too and the carry-over messaging is important. It is contributing to this 'buzz', it then legitimizes the nutritional ingredient categories which in turn, contributes to legitimacy of other nutritional products either as extract-type ingredients, or as components to raise the 'healthful profile' of the product.
I see this interest and opportunity as being positive in three ways - first, as an aware consumer who is personally looking for healthier choices, secondly, seeing new and evolving opportunities for ingredient suppliers who are ahead of the curve in the value they offer to their clients, and thirdly, in the 'convergence' awareness regarding health, wellness, personal choice and lifestyle decisions that consumers can make to take a measure of control over aspects of their wellbeing. This last I expect to lead to continued growth and opportunities in all of natural health products / dietary supplements, functional foods and beverages as well as natural personal care.