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Musings from NBJ Summit 2019

That’s now at least 17 NBJ Summit’s I’ve attended over the past 20 years. I’m a fan of the event, and it’s certainly interesting to see how it’s evolved over the years, from a couple different angles. Congrats to the event team that manages the 400 or so attendees from literally around the world; it’s not an easy event to stage and produce.

In my early days as industry’s media newcomer, the content truly made the event. Not only could I hear from the ‘pulpit’ as industry experts and legends waxed eloquently about past, present and future, but I could talk with them one on one, get context, make friends, and build relationships, especially across the ingredient executive set, who used to make the Summit their annual ‘need to be there’ event. Over the years, in working with the organizers and NBJ staff, I was able to provide input into data, provide a perspective on media, marketing and things digital, and then, as NPIcenter became part of New Hope, a link to the broader world outside of New Hope.

The NBJ Summit is a unique event. It needs to be special. It has to present the state of the industry, then it must quickly get to its ‘so what’ moments. It needs to engage executives and take them outside their respective businesses and give them new tools, techniques and thoughts. That’s a tough order, year after year. It needs to fulfill the wishes of the current executive leaders, and it must anticipate and connect with the perspectives of future executives. It must deliver keynotes and Ted-style talks, interspersed with networking and social events. Increasingly, it has become the place where industry ‘deals’ are done. And finally, it must tease the future, whether that future is personalization or regenerative agriculture to save our planet. That’s a lot to cover, from both subject scope and focus standpoints. To keep the attention of busy executives for 4 days of learning and networking is a tall, almost impossible task.

The current attendee base for the summit is truly a mix. From seasoned execs across the ingredient spectrum, to brand CEOs often in their first industry posting, then sprinkle in an increasing amount of venture, private equity and banking folks, as well as the usual mix of service and association – and what you have is an eclectic mix of 400 people and pretty much 400 different agendas.

Back to the 2019 Summit. The week’s content started off with the NCN Hemp Investor Forum, where insider and category expert John Grubb led presenters in raising the collective baseline of attendees regarding CBD and the current market almost immediately. The workshop on CBD was broad in scope, but John’s summations hit the mark- and if there was one presentation that captured the confusing, fragmented marketplace ‘opportunity’ that is CBD ($2 billion or $20 billion), this was it. CBD was to come up several times later in the week as well. Observation again on CBD – while the market potential may be huge, there are other ingredients out there, aren’t there?

The usual highlights of the summit were there, keynotes, state of the industry and more. Again, raising baseline understanding for busy executives is a huge Summit deliverable, and with 20 or so minutes to do that on the entirety of affairs – well, a challenging prospect, but done exceptionally well by the panelists, especially Rend Al-Mondhiry from Amin Talati Wasserman LLP. Other Summit themes that were well handled were continuing developments in personalization and an absolutely wonderful presentation by Tom Newmark, formerly co-founder of New Chapter and currently Chairman of Carbon Underground and co-owner of Finca Luna Nueva Lodge where he is focusing on regenerative agriculture. Tom’s presentation on regenerative agriculture to combat climate change was one of the most compelling Summit presentations I’ve seen in years.

Part of the NBJ Summit has been the entry of new companies and entrepreneurs. As we know, this is the life-blood of any industry, and scattered through the 4 days of content were several interesting presentations from founders and new entries. This environment was compacted on one of the Summit days in a forum called Innovation Fix where four presenting founders were able to benefit from group wisdom and experience. A couple from this group are true disruptors certain to make their mark on industry and consumers.

The follow-ups have begun at breakneck pace, as attendees try to get ahead of looming holidays and secure the deals they’ve just introduced.

Some issues to follow:

Were those executives we’ve never seen before truly out to sell their companies? Will the CBD market really reach $20b? Will Ayurveda and its principles make its way into the healthy lifestyle mainstream? Will personalization to n=1 truly materialize this time? Will transparency truly manifest through integrated supply chains built on the blockchain platform? Will the risks posed by climate change be broadly recognized by supplement industry leadership and change practices? Will the ABC Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program be implemented throughout industry?

These are only a few of the questions I’m left pondering after my 17th Summit. Again, a great week in Southern California.

See you at SupplySide West.