Musings from Probiota Dublin 2020

February 20, 2020

The role the microbiome plays in disease and health is becoming more understood with each passing week and new study. That fact was truly a foundation at the recently concluded Probiota 2020 in Dublin, Ireland. This month’s Probiota Europe is the latest in a series presented in collaboration with the International Probiotic Association (IPA). This conference set brings together many hundreds from the microbiome community to discuss science, marketing and opportunities in three regional events. This most recent one nailed scope by ensuring diverse aspects of emerging science and opportunities were addressed, ranging from probiotics, of course, covering prebiotics, the microbiome in general, and a sampling and discussion on the role of fermented foods.

I was very pleased to represent the Global Prebiotic Association and broader prebiotic community at the event, participating on a panel and chairing a lunch roundtable. On the panel, two prebiotic suppliers joined, Stephen O’Hara from Optibiotix and John Deaton from Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes, as well as Tracy Armstrong from KO Kombucha as we discussed the future of prebiotics and fermented foods. Discussions ranged from the mechanistic, through definition, needing the right dialogue with the regulator, to the juncture of science and communications/marketing, continuing a theme developed the previous day by New Nutrition Business’s Julian Mellentin, and one that would be further developed in a few communications-centric presentation spots.

While I’m not going to go through the entire program in this piece, here are some of my notable thoughts.

The program followed what has become a typical Probiota format. A keynote the first evening was followed by a few presentations. Panels were mixed in throughout the two plus days. Ample time was provided for networking, and as is becoming the case in many industry events, the hotel restaurant/lounge has become the venue of choice for deal-making. Content did deliver the business of science, always a challenge with a mixed technical/marketing crowd.

In addition to whole microbiome coverage, deal-making was a nice program addition, and in Dublin, we heard from both sides of the deal, first, Kara Landau, CEO and Chief Dietitian of Uplift Foods, talking about the lessons she’s learned as a start-up, followed immediately by Katrina Borisjuk, the Marketing Director for CPG giant Mondelez’s SnackFutures program, an early investor in Uplift Foods.

The organizers also included a session on the skin microbiome which included representation by L’Oreal in the programming.

Special events associated with Probiota included a pre-con tour to the Kerry facilities in Naas, (very well done) and as a social event, an evening inside the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

Overall, several revelations struck me:

  • The US is so different from other markets and marketplaces in this case the EU and UK, and the microbiome space is no different. Influencers, channels of sale, claims environment, health and culture considerations are only some of the more obvious differences.
  • We are still at the beginning of a massive flurry of activity and opportunity in microbiome tech, communications and knowledge. The emerging linkages between the microbiome, disease states, inflammation, mood, satiety and many other applications are still very incompletely understood.
  • Within a key category like the microbiome, it is absolutely possible to get high ranking senior execs involved at an event. It’s just that it doesn’t happen enough since the content doesn’t demand their commitment. Placing categories’ futures on the line does get their attention, and can create shared objectives and need. To truly build or transform a category, top execs as stakeholders need to be involved.
  • The impacts of Brexit will be significant in more areas than we might have thought. Considering the liberal approach to supplements and supplement regulation that had traditionally been in place, does the UK post-Brexit become more attractive US companies for both ingredients and finished brands? With uncertainty looming in relations with EU neighbors, do more British companies look west to North America for their next opportunities? My conversations last week suggest that both the above are in fact happening.
  • Even a concentrated event like Probiota doesn’t cover the scope of emerging, practical relevant science and advancement of issues that is necessary – even 3 times per year in different geographies. It certainly doesn’t do so in the realm of prebiotics where we as GPA remain so excited – and so focused. Our challenge at GPA is to tee up more dialogue, more substance, more applied research, more understanding of mechanisms, more community and more engagement on why prebiotics specifically are so important to human and pet health.

Stay tuned for that……


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