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5 strategic trends from the 2011 NBJ Summit

Nutrition Business Journal's editor in chief digests discussions from this year's NBJ Summit about the progress of healthy approaches to food and dietary supplements. Five strategic trends rise to the surface.

After a heady few days at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point, California, Team NBJ is back in Boulder digesting the import of this year's event. For those unaware, the NBJ Summit brings together more than 300 of the nutrition industry's brightest minds and most influential power brokers for a busy few days of strategic thinking and discussion on the progress of healthy approaches to food and dietary supplements.

This year's event including impactful presentations from Dr. Michael Roizen, Congressman Bart Stupak and many, many others, each worthy of their very own blog post, but that's not why we're here today. Today, it's time for a few of the broader takeaways. These are five conclusions I've drawn in the wake of the summit, from my 30,000-foot perspective of the industry as NBJ's editor.

  1. New dietary ingredients.
    This was obviously the topic du jour at this year's summit, but my takeaway is a surprising level of apathy about the regulatory scrutiny now facing industry. Perhaps industry is weary of this topic. Perhaps industry saw it coming. Perhaps enforcement of the new guidance is too uncertain at this point in time. Whatever the cause, many of the voices in the rooms where I found myself were less concerned about NDIs than I would have suspected. The opposite holds true for the industry's leading trade associations who remain on high alert, but the nutrition industry has grown sufficiently broad and mature to perhaps temper the impact of any single earthquake. More evidence of the apathy: According to leading financial analysts in attendance, the markets priced in FDA's NDI bombshell with nary a blip.
  2. Innovation, the sleeping giant.
    I heard lots of discussion of innovation, but little to suggest that innovation was alive and well in the supplements industry. Some powerful archetypes—fish oil, vitamin D, probiotics—continue to dominate the discussion and growth, while some familiar subcategories of the industry—weight loss, sports nutrition, sexual performance—continue to suffer from dangerous approaches to the topic. Given the current economic environment and the specter of serious regulatory burdens on the horizon, I was again surprised to not hear more urgent and dramatic concern over the industry's approach to product development and true, game-changing innovation.
  3. Where are the food folks?
    While growth rates and consumer interest clearly demonstrate the relevance of organic food, natural food and, to some extent, functional food for this industry, the conversations between supplement folks and food folks remain too awkward. The "forced marriage" that Jeff Hilton describes in the cover story of our current issue is apt, and it's a real problem. These camps need to get along for meaningful convergence to take hold, especially in light of the countervailing trend toward segmentation that NBJ sees developing within the industry to the detriment of supplement companies. The psyche of American consumers moved away from convergence in 2010, and I heard little to suggest the major players here—functional foods and dietary supplements—have a salient, coordinated response to that challenge.
  4. Integrative medicine has truly arrived.
    We covered this trend in depth about six months ago, as passage of the Affordable Care Act brought practitioners of integrative medicine directly into the public debate about healthcare in this country. That trend is clearly alive and well. "Integrative" is the key word here, as evidenced by conventional doctors and pharmacists taking the dais to espouse the real benefits of alternative caregiving. A subtrend here that NBJ continues to track is the dramatic escalations in stress, anxiety and depression among consumers, with concomitant sales growth for cognitive supplements and mindfulness practices.
  5. Here's one more, a bonus trend: The level of interest in consumers is on the rise.
    That sounds obvious enough to sound amateur, but in a room full of ingredient suppliers and manufacturers, the response to consumer research and ground-level consumer profiling was palpable. I see this as another sign of the nutrition industry's maturity as it adopts more sophisticated approaches to marketing and packaging, but it's also another sign of the shifting power balances underway between increasingly educated consumers and corporations in near constant states of transition.

Can't wait for next year.

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