Editorial: Musings on Anaheim – Reflections on IFT 2009

Like returning to the scene of a crime (or in this case a great industry event), the recent trip to Anaheim for the 2010 IFT Conference and Expo provided an opportunity to reflect on a year half gone, opportunities ahead, and a chance to participate in an Anaheim event that frankly lacked any of the energy and vibe of Expo West and SupplyExpo held three months earlier. While I must admit that I didn’t expect to see the exuberance of Expo reflected in IFT, even I was surprised.

First, there was the notable absence of several key players including Kerry Ingredients (also absent from SupplyExpo), but the floor also went without other players such as Kraft Ingredients and Pacific Grain, and once all down-sizing was concluded, it left Corn Products International as the largest booth with a 50 x 50 allocation. From a ‘floor’ standpoint, I was able to make it from end to end in a reasonable amount of time, certainly not the case at Expo West with swarms of retailers in every row. It was obvious that several companies had worked carefully on concept products (remember the products with ‘functional decadence’ a few years back, but I think that now there is a basic ‘price of entry’, an absolute and fundamental expectation that nutritional ingredients will not in any way create an unpleasant experience in taste, ‘mouthfeel’ etc, and you can’t even play in the food and beverage world unless this is the case. For ingredient suppliers, if you can’t make that ‘neutral to positive’ assurance, you’re wasting your time at a food event.

Lack of energy notwithstanding, the show had interesting things to offer. Healthier continues to be a major movement, and this was evident all the way from replacement ingredients, all the way to innovative formats for addressing weight management. ( A Fonterra satiety water with a very pleasant flavor comes to mind.) In years gone by ‘functional companies sought nutritional relevance, and perhaps that’s one reason why Glanbia’s approach at this show (a movement from nutrition to function with the company’s Optisol® products fulfilling the desire for cleaner labels and optimal product performance under stressed conditions (freezing or baking).

Natural also seems to be an ongoing motivator, and one area that was particularly apparent, was the interest in natural colors and flavors. And although not particularly sexy, the importance of fiber and prebiotics continues to grow. And with digestion/ gut health, blood sugar and weight management being related, high focus health conditions, fiber applications and differentiation has never been more important….or opportunistic. Our group had a good meeting with Matsutani, as one supplier in the category with a deep science pool and good applications support particularly in environments where heat or acid stability is required.

A few of the more emerged categories were also evident, and here I speak of omega-3s and probiotics. The latter though was not quite as highly promoted as expected or even as in previous years.

Oh, so sweet!

Perhaps the most notable battle on the show floor was the contest over who was the sweetest. Actually, all the hype recently over stevia and Reb A (Rebaudioside A), and this battle manifested on the show floor too. Cargill GLG, PureCircle, Sweet Green Fields and others all showcased Reb A offering s, many with concept products intended to prove that their brand or process had truly conquered stevia and hence was a player in what surely is going to be the most interesting food/beverage category of ingredients in the next few years.

And the more experienced sweetener companies are not going to go away without a fight. Niutang Chemical, a leader in many conventional sweeteners, expects to participate in the Reb A market next year, and with a couple new FDA GRAS petitions under evaluation (including Blue California), the jostling for position is and will continue to be intense. It remains to be seen how the market will break out as companies offer numerous Reb A levels (one company touted 99%), and whether formulation will evolve to gradually incorporate Reb A products as traditional sweetener levels are reduced, or whether marketer/formulator objectives will ultimately be total replacement. And of course, the ancillary market has also been busy, with analytical methods, reference materials and monographs emerging. One floorside conversation that I had was with USP, discussing their recently developed monograph for Reb A 97% and the monograph system in general, and its intention to be safety oriented. The discussion quickly turned to one of my favorite subjects, adulteration, and I found it interesting that while safety-compromising adulteration would be in immediate USP concern and priority, economic adulteration was not even remotely of interest, and would not cause USP to reassess monographs or methods.

All in all, it was an interesting few days. In the intervening week plus, more has happened so let me change gears abruptly and close by commenting on the announcement of the departure of David Seckman as CEO of the Natural Products Association. Under Seckman’s leadership and driven by his vision, the association’s relevance has been established, it’s role and value in the industry secured, and this industry is so much better because of it. Seckman will be missed and the association will be challenged to fill those shoes.

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