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Musings from Vitafoods Europe 2018

I’m pretty sure that’s 14 or perhaps even 15 Vitafoods Europe in the books for me. In those attendances over 18 years, the world has become noticeably different, as have the marketplaces we serve. Years ago, nutrigenomics was simply a potentially viable theory, botanicals and sports products defined much of prospective market growth, and when thinking about ‘transparency’, along the supply chain let alone amongst the overall relationships between companies involved, was just not in the cards in such an opaque environment where secrecy was often the greatest ally.

Heading into Vitafoods, I was prepared to spend a lot of time digging into current perceptions on the state of supply chain transparency, where we’ve progressed, where we’ve not, and what’s in store. I was also ready for support and challenges on the single ingredient trade association concept, especially within the categories of Vitamin K2, Curcumin and Prebiotics.

Onto my musings….

Hemp and cannabis has truly entered the conversation, with show floor dialogue occurring each day at Vitafoods. While not pervasive like CBD was at Expo West, the dialogue about its agricultural and commercial opportunities, the health benefits, along with global supply chain considerations got people’s attention. And since some of the most recent compelling industry science involves the potential of CBD and related compounds, expect this activity to continue.

At some point over the years, the conversation about Nutrigenomics evolved into personalized nutrition. Is the microbiome where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Numerous companies are betting this way. Whether the economics or practicalities support broad impact n=1 personalized products, it’s increasingly evident that one size fits all doesn’t work well any more.

Sports supplements continue to remain, well – ‘active’. Active nutrition increasingly is a catchall that covers some of the more traditional performance nutrition themes yet broadens the prospective audience to include young and older alike. In fact, anyone seeking to outperform their peers can fall into this group, and performance also includes focus and acuity which are increasingly tied to performance.

Over a dozen years ago, industry first heard the term ‘beauty from within’ and many an investment and JV went down the rabbit hole, including New Hope’s efforts to try to put together workshops and conferences both in North America and Asia. Many thought there was  a decent premise, Nutrition Business Journal quantified the opportunity in the first ever Nutribeauty report many years ago, but the science, market and economics never aligned. With a much more thorough understanding of cellular dynamics and chemistry, the concept of ‘nutribeauty’ finally seems just about there.

Over the past few years, where one once saw the glorious hyped introduction of new ingredient after now ingredient, there has been a steady short towards the more ‘inglorious’ evolution of ingredient delivery forms and technologies. While this truly challenges the market, it is the outcome of better systems analysis, better understanding of mechanisms of action and metabolic fate of ingredients. Combine this with technologies, some migrating from the pharma realm, that enhance or optimize stability, and we see a subtle and solid shift occurring. This new science combining with the science and herbal knowledge of decades will provide new opportunities in the years to come.

One of the categories we’ve been watching for some time involves prebiotics. We’ve seen the continued growth of probiotics, even in Europe which even lacks a convenient regulatory category. In the space around probiotics, yet following a frequently divergent path, an enhanced understanding of the microbiome and benefits of microbial diversity is consistently leading to a highlighting of the potential of prebiotics. The Vitafoods show floor featured several newly introduced or approved prebiotics, including those based on human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs).

So, what’s this thing about transparency?

I was struck by the fact that there’s a naïve movement that seems to be indicating that ‘all is well, since we’re now forced to be transparent. First of all, all is NOT well, and while there are drivers towards enhanced transparency, we have a long way to go and were some common industry practices and behaviors to come to light, it would lead to decidedly unpleasant, negative outcomes. Focusing on the positive—relationships are changing, transparent behavior is being rewarded, new technologies like blockchain appear to have merit in driving and supporting transparent and secure processes… and perhaps best of all, enough folks are getting frustrated and agitated at the status quo. Yet why do we still see the amount of adulteration we do?

Maybe this emerging generation of consumers is the one that forces total transparency and eliminates adulteration? maybe it’s the new business owners entering the market as acquisitions continue to change the makeup of the industry? Maybe it’s the next technology that makes it absolutely impossible to cheat? And maybe it’s simply the next expose?

Next stop Miami for Probiota Americas…