Industry Execs Explore Common Goals, Opportunities at Focus on the Future

PHOENIX- Leading industry executives from the supply, manufacturing and retail channels came together for Virgo Publishing's third annual Focus on the Future Executive Conference & Retreat for four days of networking, educational sessions and industry discussion. More than 140 participants represented companies including IdeaSphere, Anabolic Laboratories, Nutrilite and Pharmachem Laboratories.

"Focus on the Future provided me an opportunity to learn first hand how companies such as Herbalife could better partner with suppliers, manufacturers and vendors," said John Venardos, Herbalife's vice president of worldwide regulatory and government affairs. "I was also given the opportunity to explore in depth regulatory issues and practical consequences affecting the meal replacement and dietary supplement industry. The quality of information was superb and the networking opportunities were terrific."

"We are honored that so many industry leaders joined us to discuss the future of the business," said Jon Benninger, Virgo Publishing's director of business development. "There are many important issues and opportunities facing us, and we are happy to provide a forum where knowledge and ideas can be shared."

The 3rd Annual Golf Outing kicked off Focus on the Future on Tuesday, Feb. 1, with 30 golfers and that evening, attendees gathered at a Welcome Reception, sponsored by NSF International. Following the reception, participants headed to a unique keynote presentation, sponsored by Geni Herbs. Matt Kieffer, founder of US Team Building, made an interactive event out of the keynote and imparted critical points about building effective teams.

The education program, sponsored by Kemin Health, began Wednesday morning. A total of six FutureFocus presentations covered topics including regulatory affairs, consumer trends, changes in retail and manufacturing expectations, and the role of supplements in health care.

"The quality of the speakers was excellent and the content of their presentations was directly relevant to issues of today," said Leo Cullen, executive vice president of Buckton Scott Nutrition. "This was reinforced by the extensive questions and comments during each presentation."

The first session featured Susan Walker, M.D., director of dietary supplement programs for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and lead scientist for the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition (CFSAN), updating attendees about FDA internal procedures relative to supplements and relayed specific details on current hot topics, specifically new dietary ingredient (NDI) notification and health claim substantiation.

Both retailers and manufacturers took the stand during complementary sessions to discuss issues impacting their channel of distribution. How to not only gain shelf space but to stand out among the overwhelming number of supplement choices at various major retail outlets was the topic of discussion for the retailer panel, led by Susan Trimbo, Ph.D., senior vice president of scientific affairs for General Nutrition Centers (GNC), Kevin Easler, co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing for Sprouts Markets, and Tony Welder, R.Ph., president of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).

On the manufacturing side, Tom Zimmerman, vice president of business development for Pharmavite, and Herbalife's Venardos presented attendees with mass market manufacturers' and marketers' perspectives on the supplement market and efforts to further industry's growth and credibility.

The most information packed session was the final Thursday seminar, presented by Lynn Dornblaser from Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD). Dornblaser covered a range of consumer trends influencing the dietary supplement and healthy food categories. Among these were the overriding trends of consumers wanting to look and feel better, movement toward indulgence for adults, the growth of packaging form and function, and the importance of developing products for specific consumer groups, including women and children.

Attendees keen on helping their companies better integrate dietary supplements and the healthcare industry turned out in force to hear advice and status reports from Cynthia Thomson, Ph.D., R.D., American Dietetic Association (ADA) expert and assistant professor of nutrition at University of Arizona; Scott Specht, senior development officer at Bastyr University; and Welder. All three speakers provided balanced views on the state of supplements relative to their respective sectors of healthcare and reiterated the importance of responsible marketing, tireless educational efforts and ongoing evidentiary science.

The hot area of sports nutrition was addressed in a panel Thursday, Feb. 3. Mark Verstegen, founder of Athlete's Performance, discussed his company's work with professional athletes, and the ways they are helping them understand supplement usage. Larry Bowers, Ph.D., senior managing director for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Kathy Jordan from NSF International and Steve Breen from EAS also spoke on the panel.

Two special sessions also gave attendees an update on industry initiatives. Following Wednesday's lunch, representatives from the Natural Products Foundation (NPF) discussed the group's initiatives, including launching a media review panel of industry trade advertising, as well as the way quality issues impact the value of all industry companies. After the Thursday lunch, AOAC presented a panel discussing the development of validated testing methods, as discussed in the pending federal GMPs (good manufacturing practices).

A host of networking opportunities spanned the four days of the conference, supported by individual sponsors and general sponsorships from Aloecorp and CS Agra. Evening happy hours were sponsored by Blue California and Proliant Health Ingredients; each event included hosted beverages and snacks. Continental breakfasts were sponsored by Nutrition 21 and Unigen Pharmaceuticals, while Lesaffre Yeast sponsored a session break. On Tuesday night, Pharmachem Labs sponsored a dinner at the Millennium's Pinon Grill restaurant. Wednesday's Mexican lunch buffet was sponsored by Lonza Inc., while Thursday's lunch was sponsored by Buckton Scott Nutrition. That evening brought a special dessert and cordial reception sponsored by Marco Hi-Tech.

On the last day of the conference, Focus on the Future participants enjoyed the exclusivity of a corporate tent on the 18th hole of the FBR Open and 65-degree weather. The special event was co-sponsored by BI Nutraceuticals, Kyowa Hakko and Nutraceutix.

"Being able to watch the tournament in relaxed comfort and that close to the players was a thrill we won't forget, and the perfect ending to a very successful conference," said Randy Schoenfeldt, vice president of business development for Nutraceutix. "The conference was extremely worthwhile and fulfilled all of our expectations for the educational sessions, networking and personal conversations rarely afforded at other venues. As always, Virgo hosted a first-class event."

"As a first time attendee, I found the opportunity for me to meet executives from organizations from whom IdeaSphere obtains materials to be extremely beneficial," said Tim Schaafsma, vice president of operations with IdeaSphere.

Peggy Jackson, Virgo's director of publishing, concluded, "This conference offers more than networking, it offers participants the opportunity to build relationships over the course of four days. Participants really got to know each other through many conversations and relaxed events."

For information on upcoming Virgo Publishing events, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West and Focus on the Future, contact Peggy Jackson at (480) 990-1101 ext. 1157 or [email protected]. Information is also available by visiting

Audio recordings of the seminars from Focus on the Future are available through Virgo Publishing's online training Web site,, for download.

Virgo Publishing produces the SupplySide Trade Shows and Conferences, the Focus on the Future Executive Conference and Retreat, and the online training Web site; and publishes Natural Products Industry INSIDER and HSR: Health Supplement Retailer magazines.


Amy Sharman
Marketing and Communications Manager
Virgo Publishing
Phone: 480-990-1101, ext. 1543
E-mail: [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.