Event Review: Nutracon - SupplyExpo 2005

By Len Monheit

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SupplyExpo has finally made it as a valuable and legitimate event. So say the exhibitors from SupplyExpo 2005, many of whom had exhibited as an investment in prior years, and who now saw that investment beginning to pay off with solid show traffic and leads.

On the other hand, Nutracon 2005 left a bit to be desired, with information of substance frequently sandwiched between presentations of lesser interest, so it was extremely difficult for the entire event to have energy and flow. Let's go back to recap...

Pre-registration numbers for Nutracon suggested that some 400 plus attendees would participate, and while there were few, if any instances, where all 400 gathered in one location, several individual tracks had 80-100 attendees at some of the sessions.

This year's Nutracon began with Part 1 of the Innovator's Challenge, presentations intended to get the audience thinking about Innovation and Formulation issues as they conceptualized 'The Next Red Bull'. This session, attended by some 85 or so people, provided participants with a chance to listen to a panel speak about some of the trends and innovations. These included closure technology (Liquid Health Labs with their Powercap that releases ingredients into the solution with a twist of the cap was presented), design concepts, packaging trends such as a self-heating can, and a particular focus on marketing concepts with a prediction from panelist Jim Tonkin that licensing of names in the beverage sector will be huge in the foreseeable future. After the panel presentation, which was moderated by Barbara Brueckner, Innovation Manager at Mattson and Co., participants broke into groups at their tables to begin conceiving a new beverage product line. Judging by the volume of conversations around the room, this session was participative, productive and high energy. Working with six colleagues at our table, I certainly found the dialogue and process informative.

From here, the day broke up into several tracks, including the 'New, Lesser Evil' which included a presentation by Dr. Michael Dansinger, one of the physicians at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston who conducted the study, published in Journal of the American Medical Association that evaluated which popular diets are the most effective at weight loss and reducing risk factors for heart disease. The track also involved a review of 'trans-fat' science and the closing session, presented by Betafoods' Chip Marsland, was a high energy and provocative presentation introducing the concept of a performance index for foods, measuring their value based not on what they contain, but on what they do - their physiological effect, and not their health claim.

In Part 1 of the Global Market Review, Cargill's Adam Ismail spoke about nutrition and nutrition awareness on a global scale, presenting the opportunity for companies in this industry to steal a share of health dollars directly from pharmaceutical companies, noting the expanding influence of the Chinese, especially as the regulatory environment in that region tightens up. Ismail noted the potential significance of Consumerlab.com's entry into the Japanese market, more integration in the European marketplace overlaying declining birthrates, population growth in Asia, and proposed that India is key, even as intellectual property laws in that region are dramatically changing to afford more protection and acknowledgement of intellectual property rights.

In NBJ's Grant Ferrier's comments, as he dealt specifically with various regions, Ferrier also put global observations in context, such as shifting sources of supply. Ferrier noted the significant market opportunity presented by the Chinese marketplace, already being successfully explored by a few North American organizations. In the next session of the track, Anup Engquist of Food Export Consulting spoke about international regulations and challenges, noting an increased focus on ingredient specifications and process controls.

The Track continued later that day with Julian Mellentin, co-director of The Centre for Food & Health Studies, presenting an update on Australia and New Zealand. This was one of really four special regional presentations (the others being Japan, Sweden and Canada) and in his presentation Mallentin described the regional advantages (including low cost dairy infrastructure, gateway to Asia, Centre of Excellence research and

collaborative environment encompassing concept to product development) as well as some emerging products and opportunities. These included Olivado (an avocado-based oil), an emerging awareness and effective identification of products with low glycemic index and companies actively using glycemic index as part of their marketing message.

Ron Bailey concluded this part of the track, speaking about Japanese Functional foods and Nutraceuticals, with additional regions to be discussed the next day. In parallel to this track, the 'Future of Organics' was discussed including trends and the science as it seeks to establish concrete benefits and build the platform for establishing claims.

Parallel tracks presented the morning of Day Two included the Functional Confectionary track, as well as Natural Personal Care and New Ingredient Science. The first dealt with the history of chocolate, current health related research and confectionary as a delivery vehicle for nutritional ingredients, concluding with a discussion of consumer attitudes towards functional foods and functional confectionary.

In the 'new ingredient science' track, a series of presentations, dealt with issues as diverse as deciphering clinical studies, New Dietary Ingredient submissions, followed by several ingredient-specific presentations ranging from zeaxanthin to glucoasmine. Douglas Kalman from Miami Research Associates, in his session "How to Decipher a Published Study: Critiques of Actionable Works" intended to generate discussion and thought about sponsored studies and their pitfalls, and the current use of studies in industry materials including marketing materials. This session was also intended to show the potential and ways in which the language used to present study results might contravene DSHEA and potentially run into regulatory enforcement. The session also covered apparent FTC and FDA study expectations for claim substantiation, and presented several products where the science, regulatory status or both was questionable.

The track entitled 'Functional Fortified Foods Bioactives' also ran Thursday afternooon. The sessions covered The Functional Foods Report, as presented by Patrick Rea of NBJ and then went into a session on 'Super Juices' presented by Bill Knudsen of Natural Vitality. This presentation went through some of the current hot topics in functional juices including cranberry, cherry, blueberry, pomegranate, acai and noted the building body of scientific evidence behind many of them, due largely in part to studies sponsored by the various councils (ie. blueberry) In a few cases, specific mention was made of the need for supply to catch up with very strong demand (pomegranate) and then the presentation went on to describe direct and multi-level marketing success with noni, mangosteen and more recently goji berry. Although there was some scope of coverage to this presentation, there were no real insights and I suspect the 45 or so attendees for this particular session felt a bit disappointed that there wasn't more substance and even perhaps enthusiasm in the presentation.

The next few sessions in this track dealt with the science of bioactives including a presentation by Simon Schenk from the University of Michigan on the meaning of the Glycemic Index. More than a definition, Schenk provided some of the inputs and factors contributing to the concept of glycemic index and its impact on physiology, and it was interesting to note that this was one of at least four Nutracon presentations that at least raised the issue specifically of 'Glycemic Index'.

The final session of this track was a presentation by consultancy group Sterling Rice Group, entitled "Fortified Foods Change Focus: Challenges and Opportunities" and included the presentation of focus group and consumer feedback in an effort to determine the future of functional food and behavior and belief parameters that are influencing it.This particular presentation had about 65 attendees and seemed to have an extremely attentive late afternoon audience. Points of note that were raised in the presentation included confirmation that as low carb has waned, awareness on the part of consumers about nutritional composition has risen. The presenters also spoke about individualized nutrition, increasing consumer sophistication and when considering functional food messaging, reiterated the need for care in presenting the benefits, education without preaching, a wellness and treatment balance, and in one of the most interesting concepts presented over the two days of Nutracon tracks, specific data that suggest that consumer expectations are rising, including a rising awareness of quality issues, and more significantly, of dosage issues.

The concluding session of the Global Market Review also ran the afternoon of Day Two, concluding with presentations from Sweden and Canada. Of significance and possible parallel in these two marketplaces is the product development and commercialization model which involves close collaboration between government, industry and academia and in the case of both of these countries, involves Centres or clusters of Excellence to identify, study, develop and commercialize with industrial partners. In the Swedish presentation, the presenters noted the cycle which moves from lab to consumers before cycling back into the lab. Rolf Bjerndell of Skane Dairy also highlighted the fact that the application of high tech to food products was driving product innovation especially in the world of dairy, or perhaps more specifically, the concept of "A dairy is biotechnology in reality."

Keynote speakers associated with Nutracon included Dean Ornish and Andrew Weil.


The scope of industry coverage offered by a Nutracon is unparalleled and this year was no exception. Attendees got snapshots of aspects of the industry with some potential and some product development or sector development initiatives that are emerging. Those that found it most worthwhile drifted from session to session and then met colleagues outside the seminar rooms to discuss concepts and ideas. While several topics were well presented, others were less so, Every time a bit of momentum was lost, an event that has a tough time generating community fell back a little so that by the time Expo West and SupplyExpo began, Nutracon as an entity was a memory and participants remembered only a few specific presentations.

Nutracon is difficult to manage with Expo West and its attendant distractions, although almost impossible to conceive of without the draw of that massive venue. In theory, they have to be co-located, but that is a double edged sword. As soon as attendees reach the convention center, they're pulled in so many directions, meeting suppliers, customers, partners, friends and collaborators that it's really difficult for people to stay focused on Nutracon and therefore derive maximum benefit from it. It seems that those who benefit the most are able to extract nuggets and develop these nuggets into new concepts and opportunities and partners. The curriculum at Nutracon doesn't spoon feed a 'how to succeed in the next 'x' years'- nor is it intended to. It is intended to present scope of perspectives that will trigger ideas - and relationships. Those expecting a how-to clinic are often disappointed. That having been said, this year's Innovator's Challenge built on last year's concept introduction and was an interactive and participative forum. It could maybe use a bit more structure, possibly even acquainting pre-registrants of some expectations and guidance that will enable them to get the most out of it- as they plan for the show. In fact, that might be the trick to generating some pre-show buzz - a session correspondence on "How to make the most out of Nutracon'. Perhaps sending pre-registrants correspondence to allow them to better plan and prepare for the experience might be a way to enhance the experience - and also encourage early registration.

On a related topic, attendee dialogue, pre, during and post show is probably an area that can be stepped up. All three help to build and consolidate community, a feeling that is lacking amongst Nutracon event attendees. There is no formal opening or closing, there is no recap of key points, there is no context provided for those that are seeking that context to ensure the event was meaningful. In its absence, attendees then diffuse through the larger show floor with no reinforcement of the value of their participation in Nutracon.

New Hope deserves marks for attempts at integration as they moved the technology transfer, applications center and posters downstairs to the SupplyExpo show-floor. Obviously too, the notion of three events, five days is gaining traction, or at least the manufacturer and supplier communities are recognizing the value of getting together on the SupplyExpo show floor. Or maybe it's just a matter of critical mass as the volume of exhibitors on that floor has increased to make a venture forth on the part of the buyers worthwhile. Whatever the case, the SupplyExpo event, and not only on the show floor, is a significant value for participants, and it will be interesting to see what the impact is on Virgo Publishing's SupplySide East in Baltimore next month.

As all events are continuously re-evaluated from a value proposition standpoint, so too will be SupplyExpo, and likely most directly against SupplySide East. 'East', whether due to changing times, changing venue or changing value, has lately struggled, and there may be a correlation between SupplyExpo success and a lack for

SupplySide East - stay tuned.

It is quite possible that the industry of our future, at least on the supplier portion, will have two major west coast supplier events (Expo West and SupplySide West) with two extremely minor supplier symposia (or not) in the east (Expo East and SupplySide East). Maybe it's time for the mid-west - Chicago anyone?

In closing and moving back to Nutracon. This year truly, we were able to conceive in Nutracon and see on the show-floor at Expo. The curriculum and topics chosen made that possible and this makes the integrated event unique. Specific examples include functional confectionary, the emergence of low GI and next generation functional beverages or beverage ingredients and the concept of new, lesser evil.

Nutracon itself continues to struggle with an identity crisis, as well as communicating its value proposition and delivering its value potential to all attendees. New Hope now has a total community of a couple thousand past Nutracon attendees to be tapped into and further developed and engaged. Will they successfully do it?

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