By Len Monheit
Later this week, I’m off to Asia, and then, in a real roundabout route, end up in New Orleans for IFT. By the first week of July, I expect therefore to not only be overwhelmed, but to have a good sense of ‘real-time’ perspectives in a couple key industry marketplaces: Japan, Hong Kong/China and the food ingredients space as presented at IFT.
So what are some of the issues and topics that will likely arise?
First of all, the US marketplace is a key bell-weather for sector success and likely always will be. For that reason, the analysis, and discussion of market trends and regulatory issues I’ll present next week in Tokyo should be interesting and perhaps a tad controversial. Issues such as a global focus on health claims (from the EU to ASEAN to even the re-evaluation of US health claims) lead directly to a secondary factor, the communication of nutritional benefits (education and labeling as subsets) as companies wrestle with consumer thirst to know, and an increasing reluctance or conservatism in just what can be effectively communicated. Enter the opportunity for third party resources…
Last week, NPIcenter and Functional Ingredients magazine hosted a webinar providing a market overview on digestive health. This well-attended webinar indicated that North American consumers have a new-found interest in their guts and digestive processes, legitimizing the attention paid to the category for many years in Asian marketplaces. I’m anticipating ‘healthy’ dialogue on the subject in both Japan and Hong Kong.
The global picture:
As we see areas of harmonization, obviously some are intended to be trade supportive, others restrictive. In addition, new regulations designed specifically to support product quality have the potential to be viewed as trade restrictive. By this I mean anything having to do with country of origin labeling, offshore testing requirements, quarantining etc.) It will be interesting to audit the global scene to determine whether we, in an industry that absolutely relies on global participation and communication, may be facing increased barriers, real or perceived, that further complicate the already sometimes overwhelming global complexities that are a part of just simply doing business.
As supplement GMPs become imminent, and with so many factors in motion, the reliance on third party ‘providers’ becomes even more substantial. In my current deliberate use of the term ‘provider’, I am including trade associations, certifiers, trade media, contract labs, contract manufacturers and the numerous other service contributors to our sector. As they proliferate, and as their capabilities become even more critical, determining and differentiating becomes even more problematic, especially when one considers global perspective. If I’m sitting in a boardroom in Tokyo trying to understand how to effectively participate in global markets, where do I turn? If I’ve got a finished product in Hong Kong and trying to reach Canada as a Natural Health Product, what do I do?
These questions get put into a real context when superimposed on current events. For instance, in this morning’s NPIdaily, we picked up the AP article on USA Today describing how legislators are now coming to realize that some analytical labs are actually testing until they can demonstrate positive results (http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2008-06-12-subpoenas_N.htm?csp=34). Just wait until these same legislators find out that some labs don’t even have analytical capabilities to test what they claim to, a practice commonly called dry-labbing.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that companies are only secure as the weakest link in their value chains. Additionally, as I’ve noted before, company intelligence is directly proportional to their market intelligence, a function directly related to their ability to gather and analyze the myriad of factors impacting or likely to impact their marketplace.