By Len MonheitYes, another SupplySide West is in the books and with its conclusion comes the end of the main industry events for 2007. I know that many of you, our readers, will now expect the usual show review, and while I will not immediately satisfy that desire, bear with me for at least the next week as I get some of my thoughts in order. It’s relatively easy to provide a few general observations; the analysis will come in due course. Also, suffice to say that I still need to gather a few impressions from others, as the event dispersion and other factors made it impossible for me to take in everything I intended to.
Now- to the show itself…..
Without the final headcount it is impossible to verify that attendance was increased, but based on hall size and growth of the venue in general, one can expect to hear reports of certainly a double-digit or more increase in attendance. This event has become an international venue and has reached a certain critical mass that ensures participation by all supplement companies, and an increasing number of food and other category representatives. By our examination, about 500 booth owners were registered to North American operations (some foreign companies have North American offices or at least addresses), with a further almost 100 from China, approximately 20 of EU registration, 15 or so from India, an additional 15 to 20 from elsewhere in Asia and a few miscellaneous registrations. The diversity of booth registrants is indicative of the global marketplace and supply environment. The trafficked show floor areas are also indicative of who is in favor, and more conspicuously, who is not. For those that are not, key components include, in addition to geographical origin (similar to observations at FI Europe, rows with a heavy concentration of Chinese exhibitors likely received less traffic) level of readiness for the show. Companies without translated materials and those with an inability to communicate effectively in English just did not have the traffic or interest. It continues to baffle me that companies will spend so much money on events including booth and travel, and yet be totally unequipped when they arrive at the venue. (Perhaps some are just happy to scope the event as a first time exhibitor.)
There is no doubt that the show hall was larger and contained more exhibitors than previous years, and the dispersion effect in the show hall was made more significant by extra aisles and a general spreading out of the entire floor. While this no doubt contributes to the growth and presumably prosperity associated with the event, it is not without its downsides as many attendees found themselves anticipating either one day show floor coverage (which was a real challenge) or had not planned adequate time between meetings to get all the way across the show floor. The intense ‘buzz’ and urgency was also not as strong as in previous years, in my opinion.
This convergence of the supply community at SupplySide West makes it a must participate event (arguably the premier North American event) for just about anyone involved in ingredient supply. What is less clear is the motivation of the buying community – finding new vendors or conversing and cementing existing relationships. Also not clear is the rationale for participation in some of the associated programs, at least to this spectator. For example, one pre-publicized educational event on crisis management was cancelled with only 5 attendees registered. Is this a reflection on the level and responsibilities of attendees (senior execs involved in crisis management at corporate levels are not engaged by the show) or the continued general belief that one can market one’s way out of every crisis that can conceivably hit the industry. (Incidentally, the marketing seminars were very well attended.) Also unclear is the distribution of the audience for some of the presentations – is this ingredient companies monitoring the ‘state of the industry’ or are these finished product companies engaging through the SupplySide venue?
Continuing to speak about associated programs, 44 companies were involved in hosting VendorWorks presentations. Some were outside the event hall, others inside. I personally did not see the attendance outside the hall, but for those inside, numbers I personally observed (6 presentations) were between 6 and 28 attendees. I’ll leave the ROI calculations to the companies who purchased this part of the program.
I must confess that with a few exceptions, I was unable to attend many of the sessions – VendorWorks or other. One that I did attend was co-presented by Richard Cleland and Christine Lee from the Federal Trade Commission, speaking in part about other liability for false and misleading advertising in addition to that of finished product manufacturers making claims associated with their product. Specifically, the responsibility of suppliers (and potential liability) was discussed. Where the information, language and substance of the claim originates from the supplier, so too does the responsibility for claim substantiation.
Of course, much of the business of the industry, and a lot of the fun, fellowship and camaraderie that makes this industry so wonderful, is conducted away from the trade show hall itself. This can take the form of special events and sessions, golf tournaments, small gatherings, and more formal suites and entertainments. These are typically the occasions where relationships are strengthened and for many, are the highlights of the year. Whether celebrating anniversaries (ie. Nutritional Outlook and InterHealth Nutraceuticals) , successful and ongoing business relationships and collaboration, or simply friendship, these are some of the moments we look back upon year after year, recognizing that this industry has wonderful elements and people and can provide challenge, engagement and stimulation as well as corporate and personal satisfaction.
In the way of general show observations and indicators, I continue to monitor and evaluate supply chain relationships. In the light of larger scrutiny of ingredients and inputs, are buyers developing stronger, more demanding relationships with their suppliers? As a general observation, it appears so, at least from those I spoke with, and as part of this process, supplier expertise and strength is being brought to bear in new ways. New application specific ingredients are being brought to market, based specifically on client observation of performance needs required for these ingredients. (more on this next week) . There are new or expanded alignments in the marketplace (DSM and Kemin) and new skill emerging (or simply merging) at companies taking a new level of interest in the intersection point of health, nutrition and taste (Kerry, Frutarom, Danisco).
Stay tuned……industry’s adolescence promises to be an interesting time.