Editorial: Recap From the Road Weary

It’s been a tiring few weeks. First it was a press trip on the front end of SupplySide West in Las Vegas, then that event itself, immediately followed by a trip to Frankfurt, Germany for Food Ingredients Europe. So now this road-weary writer will try to collect a few thoughts and place them in some sort of meaningful context…

I’ve written before that most sectors of this industry seem to be defying the economy. In the past several weeks I’ve heard from industry execs reporting results from ‘not bad considering’ to record breaking and the latter on both ingredients and finished products sides of the value chain. While functional food and beverage appears a bit sluggish, there is apparently no such lag in supplement activity. Perhaps this is one reason that this year’s SupplySide West in Las Vegas was yet another successful event. Exhibitor numbers were up a bit over 7% according to show organizers, although attendee traffic may have been a bit wanting for some, especially on the food and beverage side. Tough times call for differentiation and distinction, perhaps a possible contributor to the success of the education program where 3 concurrent tracks were all quite popular.

Recent Realizations…
New product introductions on both ingredients and finished product sides are down this year. Once again, there are a few technological developments that make existing products more versatile and adaptable (ie. acid, beverage, bars etc.), but much of 2009 will go down as the year of ‘digging in’ with several companies broadening research portfolios, or gaining regulatory approvals across diverse geographies. Look for the pace of new product introductions to increase dramatically in upcoming months.

Several months ago, I wrote about fiber in an article entitled, ‘Fiber Revisited’. The re-expression of the fiber value proposition continues as ingredient companies seek to prove to business clients and ultimately consumers that not all fiber products are created equal. And consumers’ increase in attention to labels and packages means new opportunities in another broad category once reserved specifically for the workout driven – protein. As is the case with fiber, new research continues to show that protein sources too are not all equal, with indications that weight management, energy, and other health conditions may be addressed by the appropriate protein-based solution.

Aging well…
As many of you know, we’re got a two day track coming up this spring at Nutracon 2010 on Healthy Aging. With the observation that Healthy Aging is really about living better (really a quality of life issue), those products that contribute ‘energy’ or those that enhance in any way the ability to either maintain muscle mass or absorb nutrients have significant upside potential – and research in these areas seems to be proliferating. And on this subject, DSM Nutritional Products seems intent on taking the lead with its resVida™ brand.

Oh so sweet….
All the cool kids are playing. At last glance, over 30 organizations had jumped into the fray over new, natural sweeteners. Of course larger players such as Cargill and Pure Circle are expected to be out front when the dust settles, but in the meantime, alliances between ingredient companies and flavor houses are only one of the activities taking place in the marketplace with increasing regularity.

No wait on weight…
Since the demise of ephedra, no ingle ingredient has dominated this ‘huge’ category. It seems though that if you don’t have a weapon for this category in your arsenal, you cannot be a total solution provider. When asked the categories of focus or 2010, over 90% of ingredient suppliers indicated weight management solutions as one of their top three.

Much ado about Krill…
For a rather small animal (and category), there’s a lot of noise swirling about the competitive ranks of those supplying krill oil. At FIE in Frankfurt, bailiffs appropriated marketing materials from one company, there are lawsuits pending in North America, the category infighting is frantic, and I for one wish organizations would focus on building a bigger pie for all to share rather than slicing and dicing the half-baked one that currently exists into infinitesimally small pieces. Contrast this category with others where the substantiation to noise ratio is a lot larger. As a mentor once told me, ‘it’s far better to concentrate finite resources on where you can move the needle in the right direction’.

The claim game…
All eyes continue to be on the EU where ‘claims’ history may be made. Unfortunately, no news is not necessarily good news, some submissions are being withdrawn over fears of a negative assessment, and more than a few manufacturers are hesitant to introduce new products due to claims uncertainty. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect is that what happens in Europe may not ‘stay’ in Europe as standards of evidence for claims is a hot topic globally. So there’s more than a bit of frustration on the regulatory front, and outright celebration of any positive news.

New solutions emerge…
As in any crisis, new opportunities and offerings emerge. It was with huge interest that I participated in the BENEO-Group launch of its solutions platform at FI Europe last week. This platform seeks to integrate science, regulatory affairs and communications groups to enable clients to utilize the support to ‘develop innovations with well-substantiated nutrition and health claims’. While it may seem to some like an obvious undertaking, after my conversation with BENEO’s Vice President, Regulatory Affairs & Nutrition Communication Anke Sentko, I was convinced that the program was anything but obvious. We spoke about the emerging regulatory environment worldwide, and the unique opportunity for ongoing guidance from the pooled resources the company offers.

Without a trace….
There’s no doubt that traceability is emerging as a critical supply chain issue. Those ingredient companies that cannot offer traceability are quickly becoming a liability to manufacturing partners. On both sides of the Atlantic, upping the ante on information voluntarily disclosed is the best practice of choice. There are even signs (hold your breath) that these practices are being supported by price premiums rather than only the ‘cost of doing business’. It’s about time…

The message that sustains…
We all know that not all companies are created equal. And when it really comes down to picking that long term partner, a company’s business practices and environmental record can be that elusive tie-breaker. In this era of electronic communication (and the long life of certain documents online), organizations are often known by the company they keep. Companies with a record of sustainable practice are increasingly sought after and valued.

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