Social networking at its finest at SupplyExpo

As I write this during the second week in March, my bags are not yet unpacked from a week-long venture at Nutracon, SupplyExpo and Natural Products Expo West. On the last day of the show, I stood in a hotel elevator with a group of trade-show-weary attendees who seemed to be holding up the elevator walls. They all agreed that if you don't leave the show exhausted, you haven't done your job.

In this day of social networking, even Linked In and Twitter don't hold a candle to the vibe at Natural Products Expo West. In all honesty, unless one turned on CNN during the show, it was difficult to tell within the halls of the industry's largest trade show that a recession, much less a depression (with small d), was going on. Nutrition Business Journal reported a 9 per cent growth in 2008 for nutrition products. Many companies in Hall A reported record growth for the same year. 2009 is still a bit of a mystery, but given the positive responses from 53,000 attendees at Natural Products Expo and SupplyExpo, and more than 415 participants at Nutracon, this industry is doing all it can to be its own stimulus package.

You've heard me say before where there is crisis, there is also opportunity. On March 7, DSM was awarded the annual NutrAward for its TensVida product, a milk derived tripeptide to help people maintain health blood pressure levels. This is certainly a market with opportunity. While at the show, I sent scouts to the food booths with one single mission: find products, other than supplements, designed for senior health and life stage management. My motives were selfish, the same week as SupplyExpo I turned 50 years of age. I was more than disappointed to see there were less than a handful of finished products designed for those of us 50 and over. As the aging population increases in number and converges with problems within our broken health care system, there is more than ample opportunity for industry growth in this area. I will gladly toss out my AARP card when I see the industry responding less to energy products for twenty somethings and more to the needs of our global aging demographic.

Along this same theme, bookending the start and end dates for the show, were two significant events from the General Accounting Office and the president's administration. The GAO released its 2009 Report on Dietary Supplements titled, "FDA should take further action to improve oversight and consumer understanding." The title alone sent a strong message. The Council for Responsible Nutrition says it is pleased that the report singled out the GMP regulations and adverse event reporting as milestones since the last 2000 report. Steve Mister, president of CRN commented, "Regulations are only as strong as enforcement, and it is time for FDA to focus its energy and resources on inspections and enforcement actions directed at the small minority of companies that are giving those in the majority a black eye." Mister added that the GAO recommendation for companies to report all adverse events versus only serious adverse events would unduly burden the FDA and the industry.

The show preceded an announcement by President Barack Obama to "ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions." The announcement was specific to stem cell research, though the same philosophy could be applied to this industry. The coming year will foresee whether the administration's dedication to science will apply to the dietary supplements and functional foods marketplace.

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