Editorial:So...what's new?

By Len Monheit

Apparently not that much, on the finished product side or on the ingredient side according to feedback from last week’s NNFA Marketplace 2002 event in Las Vegas last week, and also pointed out in the June issue of Nutraceuticals World, dealing specifically with level of ‘innovation’ in the industry.

That said, we’re operating in a challenging business environment, and with slowing or negative growth in most sectors of the industry, pulling back creative and innovative efforts was to be expected. There are two schools of contradictory thought during slowing periods, and the rules apply to business, government, stock markets and more.

The first approach is to cut to absolute core, hoard resources and manage risk and exposure carefully in an effort to ride out negative periods. The second approach is to dig deeper, challenge the status quo and reposition the organization to take advantage of emerging opportunities—because the opportunities are always there. On the government level, this can be observed in policies such as spending out of recession; in the markets, it often involves purchasing the valuable offerings at bargain prices. In industry, it can mean attacking when everyone else is retreating. What may be right for one company and situation may not be for another, though, but at the very least, both approaches must be explored and seriously considered. Obviously, the second requires deep pockets and commitment and carries it with it significant risk. And if you’re accountable to shareholders, well, that could be a limitation.

It’s always easier in hindsight to analyze and now as some sectors of our industry report strong growth (sports nutrition, weight loss products to name a few) we can expect to see a more confident approach to business development, coupled with an increased willingness to develop products, and the supporting marketing and PR programs required to sell these products. And, if you look carefully, there’s evidence that consumer belief in our industry remains, despite negative press over the past few years. A Women’s World article last week featured a new herbal ingredient, and caused many thousands of consumers to immediately clamor for the product--even before the magazine reached store shelves.

So the opportunities are there. And so are the rewards for innovation and aggressive market positioning. Industry leaders, especially the ones likely to dominate two years from now, have not been idle the past two or three years waiting to see the industry that emerges from the slowing growth period. Industry leaders have been thinking outside of the box all along, re-evaluating their strategies and not operating on the principal of “we’ve always done that”, since they realize that changing paradigms demand changing practices.

And yes these are changing times. From NNFA discussions it is apparent that Codex decisions in Europe could seriously and potentially adversely affect the industry. The regulatory environment creates challenges and the business climate doesn’t offer adequate support to research.

Over the past week or so, we’ve seen several ingredients reach GRAS affirmation, as companies position themselves for business opportunities in food products. We’ve seen several positions opening up in research and development operations; companies are seeking bright, innovative thinkers capable of recharging the industry’s idea factory.

While this evidence isn’t definitive, it suggests optimism and perhaps gritty determination. We’ve also been gathering feedback on industry events for some time now, and perhaps this is wishful thinking, but the optimism evident after last week’s NNFA Marketplace 2002 was at a level not seen in some time.

Feedback from media, manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and associations all indicated a sense of opportunity to be capitalized on. Interest in seminars was high as was enthusiasm at these sessions. On the tradeshow floor, orders were booked, for Jock Bell, Co-Founder and Director of Trinity Springs Ltd., 4 times as many orders as last year.

It is more difficult to make show participation decisions. There are more events, they can be costly, and our industry now intersects so many others that we are probably seeing show fragmentation. How many potential participants avoided NNFA, instead allocating resources to IFT this week in Anaheim?

So what is NEW? According to the NNFA Marketplace directory:

  • Ayurceutics, the only company listed with a NEW Product logo in the directory (and addendum).
  • In the Official Directory, four products were listed in the New Product Review including ‘The Toxinator Liver Care’ from Himalaya USA.

Several comments were made about the fact that shows are not necessarily about booked business—they’re about relationships, new and rejuvenated ones. This is, in fact, true of the industry as a whole, especially as it emerges into better times. There are forces at work and opportunities to be had, but only if you keep eyes and ears hungrily open and think creatively and strategically.

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