Editorial: The View from New Mexico – A Perspective on CRN's Annual Conference

There are few events that I look forward to each year more than the annual CRN conference. Not quite so esoteric in content as the NBJ Summit, certainly not as downright practical and operational as Nutracon, CRN’s The Conference somehow slides right up the middle, delivering some great networking opportunities, provocative overviews and data analysis, some decent entertainment, a keynote with ‘oomph’, all in a resort setting where the event itself is only part of the annual ‘experience’.

This year, against a current backdrop of politics and economics, CRN held its annual event at the Hyatt La Tamayo Resort, just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Once there attendees had a remote resort to relax in, and a solid mix of informative and entertaining presentations to watch. Unfortunately, a twist in the weather made many outdoor events slightly uncomfortable, leaving some attendees chomping at the bit.

Leading off the formal presentations was Dr. David Acheson, Associate Commissioner for Foods of the US FDA. In troubled times, with melamine in the headlines almost daily, Dr. Acheson did an excellent job of outlining policy and priorities, and leaving the audience with a sense of confidence in FDA’s overall approach to food safety and quality. He explained some of the agencies recent actions, detailing “prevention, intervention and response”, and talked a bit about the agency’s international initiatives.

Next up was Dr. Josephine Briggs, Director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, talking about some of the programs and research initiatives currently underway, followed by Dan Roam, author of ‘The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures’. Roam’s presentation had attendees talking and drawing and over the course of the next few days I saw many of the pictograms created by attendees during the session.

During the rest of Day 1, attendees heard about regulatory harmonization efforts in ASEAN, the current science associated with the delay in aging, and in an excellent panel discussion, heard three perspectives on the dietary supplement consumer. Randi Neiner, Director of Market Research for Shaklee corporation presented her annual consumer confidence results (the 2008 CRN Consumer Confidence Survey on Dietary Supplements), indicating that despite economic scares, 51 percent of consumers do not intend to change their supplement consumption practices. Tom Blischok for Information Resources Inc. (IRI) and Maryellen Molyneaux from the Natural Marketing Institute also presented their own data in this session.

Day Two’s agenda started off with the CRN member meeting and State of the Industry address. It quickly became evident that CRN is healthy and growing, with many of its initiatives moving the needle for the industry. The organization has identified outreach to health practitioners and education to pharmacists as logical priorities, and with its Life…Supplemented program, has surveyed almost 1200 healthcare practitioners regarding their own supplement use and the guidance they are providing to patients. One objective of the program, now entering its second year, will ultimately be to have a cardiologist, dermatologist and orthopedist affiliated (the latter two are already committed). In other programs, CRN has initiated media briefings with prominent journalists, as well as an active Capitol Hill agenda. The organization also formally announced a revised dues structure, Code of Ethics for members and Adrianne Bendich, Ph.D., of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Byron Johnson of Amway/Nutrilite were awarded the “CRN (Steuben) Apple” awards, CRN’s highest honor, given to individuals who have demonstrated long-term commitment and outstanding service to CRN and the dietary supplement industry.

Day two presentations also included Stuart Rothenberg, Editor and Publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, providing a perspective on the political situation, including a few of the very intense races, especially in the wake of the current economic crisis. Rothenberg started off by observing that all the predictions of more than a week ago were already historical as the current crisis had altered perspectives amid the belief that the country was ‘off the rails’. The financial ‘mess’ was and would continue to hurt Republicans - the longer that story was the dominant Washington theme. McCain, Rothenberg stated, “needed to turn the trajectory.” Rothenberg also suggested that viewers watch Colorado carefully, as that state could well be the election’s only required indicator.

The final day of the conference, for those who were able to stay the duration, may have been the best from a content perspective. The day started off with Breakfast with Fox’s Brian Kilmeade, a highly entertaining litany of perspectives from Kilmeade’s interviews with celebrated personalities over the years. Not only was the presentation engaging and topical, Kilmeade went out of his way to make it industry-relevant, interviewing several current sports celebrities and performers to find out about their workout routines and specifically their use of supplements. This directly led to a controversial discussion of the use and safety of creatine by and for younger athletes. All in all, this presentation was a great way to start the final day.

Next up was another great presentation, in my opinion. Dr. Mimi Guarneri, Medical director and Founder of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine spoke about her passion and belief in the potential of integrative healthcare, describing the role of food as medicine, criticizing recent research and its presentation, observing, as I’ve heard it expressed before that in the current model, healthcare is really disease care.

Just prior to closing, attendees had the chance to listen to Steve Mister (CRN), Janice Binger (ADM), George Pontiakos (BI Nutraceuticals) and Harvey Kamil (NBTY) speak in a leaders panel on the state and future of the industry. All agreed that there would be some challenges for certain industry groups in the next couple years but that the outlook could be quite good as some products ‘mainstreamed’.

The challenge (and the opportunity) in having an industry event at a remote resort is that attendees are essentially captive and looking to event organizers to provide them with a full slate of things to so. For the most part, CRN excelled in this area, with Saturday afternoon events which included horseback riding, a winery tour, a golf outing, and the various pleasures of the spa itself. The resort itself was in a wonderful location, with scenes and wildlife to view. CRN also facilitates networking with several evening events – this year was no exception, with a Thursday evening dessert reception, a Friday reception, and a Saturday dinner party. All of the events were low key, friendly efforts, and useful for prompting the networking which is one of the event highlights. An attempt at political comedy, by Gross National Product, during the Saturday party, I must confess, fell more than a bit flat.

All in all, this was certainly a worthwhile event to participate in. I’ve now been to five of the last six, and unlike other events that seem to merge into a single amorphous ‘one’, each CRN conference, for me, has been distinct with take-home lessons and new friendships. That’s what I get out of it and why it’s valuable to me. It’s also obvious to me that the CRN staff take their roles as event ambassadors seriously, and presumably an indicator of why member support in general is so solid.

So, I’ll more than likely see you there next year. In fact, some of you can even bet on it. J

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