By Len Monheit
It’s over for another year.
In excess of 43,000 people interacted, bought, sold and learned at last week’s Natural Products Expo and SupplyExpo/Nutracon. Five days of presentations and meetings left participants sapped but enthusiastic. Many signs seemed positive; some were very disturbing. Industry leaders were honored, new products were recognized, values were challenged, consensus was reached where it appeared that voices would collide – and most importantly perhaps, the industry convened en masse.
To start the week, I was able to participate in Nutracon, and despite the narrowing of the tracks to allow focus on two core areas, Bioactives and Food and Beverage (the Organic Track was not held this year), still found myself challenged to take in everything I wanted to as meetings conflicted and the larger scope Expo overshadowed the Nutracon event. Nutracon itself is an unusual event, and maximizing return from it requires an understanding of the dynamics at work. First of all, at any time, there are perhaps 220 or so people ‘upstairs’ at the sessions. Sometimes, the discussions held at the tables allocated for networking are more significant than the ones inside the presentation rooms.
Those attending and expecting to receive a formula for commercial success, inevitably go away hugely disappointed, and invariably there are speakers who despite credentials that tout them as experts in their fields, are extremely challenged when it comes to disseminating knowledge. Others have a flair or personality that makes them exciting, engaging and stimulating. While attendance for full sessions is generally encouraged, the pattern seems to be that attendees drift in and out of presentations, and up and down the stairs, and for myself personally, I find the formula works.
Back to Nutracon - first of all, I was able to attend parts of two keynote presentations. I found them general enough and yet scientifically substantial to put issues in context and to start the week. Dr. Bruce Ames, in the first keynote, spoke about micronutrient deficiencies and biochemical effects including DNA damage. The following morning, Dr, Floyd Chilton spoke about EPA and DHA and their role in health and disease starting out by pointing out familiar data to some, in that a map of obesity overlays perfectly on one of ‘inflammation’, inflammation of the type addressed through consumption of products containing EPA and DHA.
As far as the actual sessions were concerned, when possible, I spent most of my time in the Dietary Supplements/Bioactives Track.
This started with 30 minutes of a global regulatory update by Loren Israelsen, President of LDI Group Inc., who while presenting current challenges and upcoming regulatory milestones, was also able to introduce some new themes for contemplation as industry continues to be faced by antagonistic media and ‘unfriendly’ science. He observed that perhaps industry needs to get better at speaking the language of science and that we, as industry, should be aware that it appears as though forces are at work intent upon expanding the accepted definition of disease and this is and will continue to have impact in both regulatory and legislative environments. Cholesterol, menopause, acid reflux disease were three examples Israelsen used to illustrate his point.
Dealing specifically with regulatory developments, Israelsen spoke about impending serious AER legislation and its significance. In addition to removing a key thorn from the sides of DSHEA detractors, if the incidence of serious adverse events is as low as is believed, then conceivably a compelling piece of ammunition regarding supplement safety can be developed.
Israelsen also discussed the different regulatory environments around the world, including a reference to Canada’s Natural Health Products model, and noted that in the US budget cuts to the FDA would hamper the already overloaded agency’s ability to enforce existing dietary supplement legislation including GMPs. GMPs he stated, were still under evaluation at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). On issues to watch, he observed that FDA would be in a very interesting position in the event of an outbreak of avian flu if the agency had ineffective or inadequate treatment or prevention options. Faced with this environment, how could the agency adequately prevent alternatives from being presented? In closing, Israelsen advised an overarching focus on safety, urging those in the room to ‘do their homework on product safety’.
Some of the presentations obviously had greater or broader relevance than others. One presentation dealt with sport nutrition and industry as a scapegoat for positive drug tests by elite athletes. Presenter Dr. Don Catlin from the UCLA Olympic Lab commented on 2002 data from WADA that indicated that 94 of 634 ‘supplement’ products tested would have caused an athlete to test positive for banned substances. Those that have followed my columns over the past few years will know my recent involvement in this issue and dialogue with WADA and the IOC that suggests that the problem has been reduced in recent years, and recent discussions which indicate that the industry has an excellent chance of forging strong relationships with the sports community as a whole and turning this issue into an opportunity for collaboration with an external partner to provide education, science and high quality, efficacious products. Incidentally, about 60 people attended this particular presentation.
Science, clinical trials and research dominated the rest of the day, concluding with a panel presentation discussing what to do when your research goes wrong, a session that was described as immensely helpful and practical by those in the audience. On the food side of the sessions, presenters were discussing ‘Beauty Foods’, and the controversial topic of Glycemic Index, including a case study presented by Solo GI Nutrition. The day on the food side concluded with a case study on Narin Oatcakes and a presentation by Elizabeth Sloan on gluten-free foods.
Nutracon’s Day Two, following the day’s opening keynote, began with Innovation and Ideation Workshops for both the Food and Beverage and Dietary Supplement / Bioactive tracks. I was personally involved in one of the sessions, but heard that both were thoroughly enjoyed by participants who got involved in team activity and networking to develop new and innovative products. Following the workshops, the ‘Food side’ discussed topics ranging from childhood obesity to functional dairy products, while in the Bioactives track the topics ranged from functional cosmetics to nanotechnology to presentations on the 2005 NutrAward winners. The 2006 NutrAward was presented a bit later during the week, in the SupplyExpo show hall.
SupplyExpo truly deserves some special notice. Beginning and running concurrently with Expo West, this event has been gradually emerging and coming into it’s own. From its origins several years ago as a tabletop, it has now become a legitimate meeting place covering those interested in ingredients for supplements, food, beverages and personal care products. According to New Hope staff, Expo Hall participation increased by over 40 percent over the previous year. While overall traffic to the hall did not increase by that amount, the traffic was enough to cause those participating to feel the expense, in general, well spent. A notable exception to this were several exhibitors at locations near the very front of the hall, who most likely had traffic decreased by two factors – first of all, the bulk of the entries came though the registration area rather than the very front of the hall, allowing much of the traffic to miss them, and the booth layout at the front resembled tunnels rather than the more open areas near the center of the hall, which were much more conducive to traffic flow and networking. Attendees made beelines through the tunnels and lingered in the open areas. In general though, most exhibitors felt good about the event, feeling a strong need to participate, even if at the expense of participation in other ingredient shows. From an attendee perspective, although some companies were not present, there was enough critical mass to offer high value to attendees who were able to meet with most of their key suppliers, and at a comfortable, non-hurried pace. The SupplyExpo presentation varied in attendance, as is to be expected. Those dealing with International Business issues, a core area which New Hope is developing, seemed to be of particular interest.
Other thoughts in no particular order….
The 2006 NutrAward was presented to American BioSciences, Inc. for the dietary supplement product Avé(TM), containing the novel nutritional ingredient Avemar®.
While the industry is obviously divided on many issues, there is a movement afoot to bring much of the audience back to the core values it started with to achieve if not consensus, then at least dialogue and discussion before appearing divided in public and in front of legislators.
On several key issues, industry is painfully at odds. This includes pending serious AER legislation, and in fact, one booth presented literature calling strongly for opposition to AER legislation, a move that almost single-handedly, would prove to many on Capital Hill that the industry is irresponsible and needs to be reigned in as severely as possible – and with the prevailing media and legislative bent, that would be quite serious.
In his FYI blog on NPIcenter, (http://www.npicommunity.com/Blogs/tabid/53/BlogID/1/Default.aspx) Marc Ullman comments on products he observed on the show floor that were non-compliant. In a response/comment, New Hope VP of Standards Don McLemore notes that the non-compliant companies were very much in the minority and that the careful screening practices eliminated many Expo participants. I personally think both comments have merit. The standards and review in place by New Hope has no doubt had an impact in reducing the ‘flea-market’ environment where absolutely anything for anything is available for sale, and is to be applauded. I have to comment though, that as an industry, we are all too often ‘lumped in’ with those presenting the negative face for our industry. A walk down the sports nutrition aisle was absolutely scary. And I myself found an impossibly beneficial cherry-based supplement that if I believe everything on the label, will have me healthy, wealthy and wise until the age of 120 or more. I’d like to take that thought one step further.
- Some (albeit not many) non-compliant products and marketing material were observed,
- judging both from interactions at the show as well as other experiences, with retailers as gatekeepers and sellers of our products, either a lack of understanding or a lack of interest in what is permitted by law persists throughout the industry.
- The language of marketing is persuasive and compelling
Then it would seem obvious to me that part of ‘our’ problem lies in the messages being communicated by manufacturers to retailers and from retailers to consumers despite the fact that they are obviously not truthful and extremely and often deliberately misleading.
Briefly on Products…..
Some of the product focus areas continue to involve ‘replacement’ ingredients that are healthier than alternatives, and in this broad category, I’d include new fiber product presentations.
Also of interest were those products based on perceived inherently healthy foods. In this category, I include berry and vegetable-based products, and in general, across the entire show floor (SupplyExpo and Expo) was intrigued at the number of ‘Superfuit’ products based on mangosteen, acai, pomegranate and even blueberry, along with healthful omega source-based products such as flax and hemp. On the food side, reports of intrinsic health benefits from coffee and chocolate have translated to numerous product introductions.
New Hope reports over 43,000 attendees in total. More than just numbers, the event offered buzz, energy and vibrancy, and produced a feeling of optimism over most if not all of the categories.