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Vitafoods Virtual Expo & Summit: Reflecting on connection and discovery

In a year where in-person interaction and travel has been tremendously restricted, businesses across all sectors and industries are adapting to a new reality, and seeking avenues to stay connected online. Developed from a vision of fostering discovery and connection, the Vitafoods Virtual Expo (7-11 September) and Vitafoods Virtual Summit (13-15 September) brought together 13,662 attendees and 151 exhibiting companies for large scale virtual event experience.

Over five days, the Vitafoods Virtual Expo offered industry colleagues the opportunity to connect over meetings and networking sessions, as well as explore live and on-demand webinar sessions presented through the ‘Main Stage’ and thematic communities. True to the international nature of the Vitafoods brand, the event had representation from Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, South America, Middle East and Africa. Days were concluded with ‘fireside chats’ which invited industry experts to share their highlights and key findings as they relate to bigger picture developments.

Vitafoods Virtual Expo: Content highlights

Sessions delivered from the commercial minds of Benjamin Theurer (Barclays) and Cyrille Fillott (Rabobank) examined the changing consumer as a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. As behaviour evolves, consumers are becoming more conservative with their spending, pausing experimental eating, and finding their way back to familiar brands—putting pressure on younger and less-established brands to gain market share. Being present across omnichannel retail has never been more important for CPG brands as consumers increase their online shopping activity, whilst also visiting local grocers and nutrition retail providers in-store. E-commerce continues to grow at significant rates, with quarterly growth observed within the food and beverage sector.

In Mike Hughes’ (FMCG Gurus) ‘State of the Nation’ session which provided an overview of the global health and nutrition landscape, key findings include consumer interest in personal vulnerability to disease based on health status, mental wellbeing and ability to manage conditions such as high stress, physical activity and weight management associated with restricted movement, and quick shifts toward achieving holistic health. While consumers are interested solutions that boost health, they primarily want these solutions through food and drink options that can be easily integrated with diet plans and meal enjoyment. There is a certain emphasis on safe and hygienic products, which may see reversed progress on the sustainability front as single-use plastic and packaging returns. Overall, industry and consumer investment in sustainable alternatives is being paused as a reflection of conservative spending. 

Despite cost-cutting, some companies are still finding new opportunities to innovate by paying attention to accelerated trends and establishing new strategic partnerships. In a session addressing the impact COVID-19 has had on innovation in the health and nutrition industry, Jeremy Basset (Co:Cubed) noted lower barriers to entry, increased disruptive models and a greater pace of change as key factors influencing brands’ ability to innovate—no matter how big or small. While start-ups are notorious for being able to move quickly, big corporates are learning to cut their ‘response to market’ times as we see COVID-19 necessitate fast reaction from companies looking to capitalise on short-term trends.

Within the micro-communities which covered the immune health, probiotics, sports nutrition, botanicals, omega-3 and healthy ageing categories, attendees could tune into live and on-demand sessions, listen to the innovation podcast and flip through mini-reports to gain insights into the latest science and research within the respective fields.

Notably, multiple experts, including Gene Bruno (Huntington University of Health Sciences) and Sergio Pumarola Segura (Pumarola Innovation) stressed the link between the microbiome and overall immunity, outlining ingredients that offer immune support and new science to support claims and further develop these categories. 

A strong market with many opportunities to overlap with categories such as cognitive and healthy ageing, sports nutrition continues to attract the interest of consumers and manufacturers alike. In his global review, Rick Miller (Mintel) highlights the high-protein snacking opportunity as 2019 data demonstrated its high launch performance across multiple regions last year. Plant-based performance nutrition continues to increase as vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets run mainstream. There is increased demand for modest sports nutrition products that appeal to everyday active consumers looking to boost their performance, as well as active seniors looking to maintain their mobility and energy as they age.

In the botanicals space, Luca Bucchini (Hylobates) shared his future EU market view which will see changes influenced by regulators hammering down on claims and sustainable movements such as the European Green Deal. There is keen interest to further target immune health solutions through botanical ingredients, but it will remain a challenge to substantiate and legally communicate any COVID-19 related benefits—across all market sections for that matter. From a regulatory perspective, Bucchini points out the need to harmonise rules on botanicals in the EU, although we may not see movement on this for the next five years.

Vitafoods Virtual Summit

The three-day summit covered a comprehensive and scientifically-driven view of the gut health, personalised nutrition and CBD health categories featuring speakers hailing from strong academic and business-orientated backgrounds. A mix of live presentations, panel discussions and roundtables open to delegate participation provided optimal learning and peer-to-peer networking opportunities.

The gut health summit examined the wider digestive health market, the connection between gut and immune function, the potential for compliant synbiotics and how to win market share through innovative product development.

The personalised nutrition featured the voices of Jo Goossens (ShiftN), Philipp Schulte (Baze), Nard Clabbers (FoodENed) and Marco Iotti (Mixfit). The summit leaned toward developing sustainable and commercially viable business models in the personalised nutrition market, and the opportunity to connect consumers to scientifically-supported solutions.

The CBD summit observed learnings from North America where CBD products have managed to gain more ground in comparison to the EU which still faces tight regulatory restrictions. In addition to understanding the legal framework, expertly outlined by Nicolas Carbonnelle (Bird & Bird), delegates joined discussions surrounding market growth, reviewing learnings from other regions and the need for regulatory clarification if products are to expand market penetration.

Over the months of October and November 2020, Vitafoods Insights will be publishing some of the expert free-to-attend sessions featured as part of Vitafoods Virtual Expo. Keep an eye on the Videos tab for the latest uploads.

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