Vitafoods Europe has been a mainstay of the functional food and supplement industry for more than 30 years. From its inception as a ‘supplement heavy’ ingredients show in the late 1990’s through to the health-focused functional and healthy food show, the annual event has been driving the agenda for our industry and helping to shape the evolution of the European supplements and functional food market for more than quarter of a century.
Ahead of the next instalment of the show in Geneva next month (May 15-17) NutraIngredients caught up with the man leading the team behind Vitafoods to chat about the evolution of the show, some of the key trends that will dominate this year’s edition – and where he sees the future of the industry.
Looking to the past
Much like the evolution of the industry itself, the development of the show has been a gradual process, says Chris Lee, managing director of Global Health & Nutrition Network (GHNN) Europe at Informa Exhibitions – who noted that the early Vitafoods shows focused purely on nutraceuticals, despite there being very little clarity on the term at the time.
“In those early years we were certainly supplement heavy and supplement based” he said. “The evolution came when we started expanding out into the functional food and functional beverages, the fortified foods and enriched side of things.
Around ten years ago the show started to grow beyond its traditional niche, Lee explained– adding that the expansion from a traditional ingredients exhibition was helped when Vitafoods launched sections that brought in finished products, contract manufacturers, and private label firms.
“When we look at who used to be in the show, and how they have evolved, there's that really interesting piece between the food and pharma - and what that space is in between that,” he added – noting that in the ‘early years’ the show used to struggle to communicate with many businesses because the nutritional area of major businesses was generally a very small department.
“For human health and human wellness – nutraceutical divisions – they were maybe 5% of what a business was in the food space,” Lee said. “That has dramatically shifted as we look to solve those global problems like ageing populations, obesity, cardiovascular disease, all of which are putting pressure on healthcare systems.”
“Both industry and consumer awareness has caught up at an incredible pace and growth rate,” he said. “We probably have expectation and demand probably outweighing supply now in some of these areas.”
According to Lee, the evolution of the show has closely followed the evolution of the industry itself – with key drivers for growth and hot consumer trends forming the foundations for a variety of new zones, education sessions and themes in recent years.
“Our starting position from last year was learning about our visitor needs and the focus on the innovation area,” said Lee who added that other key areas of focus include omega-3, probiotics, and sports nutrition.
“So while we are running the areas around the same key themes as previously, we're actually adding a little bit more to the journey and experience for a visitor to come in on that journey,” he said.
“I think the key focus areas for us are the omega-3 side - where pharma companies have kind of bought into that over the last few years - and the probiotic space where big companies have come into the space. So we're building on that with key partners like GOED or the IPA to create a live format.
“For sports nutrition, again, we're building that for our third or fourth year, and enhancing it each year with not only sampling stations but also with a new theatre as well.”
The GHNN Europe MD also noted that the Vitafoods education program will re-shaped and remodelled to provide greater insights for visitors.
“We've got quite a few R&D forums in the new setup. Within the conference we have eight R&D forums overall, probiotics being one of them, in addition vitamins, minerals, proteins, polyphenols,” commented Lee. “We also have five business and marketing forums, and a personalised nutrition workshop.”
“I think one of the key trends that we are seeing now is personalised nutrition,” he added – noting that while the trend for personalisation is not strictly ‘something new’ he does believe the industry is trying to take to concept the mass market in a similar way that it took sports and active nutrition to the masses.
“We've seen that shift in the last five to 10 years, from the professional bodybuilder into the everyday cyclist or runner,” said Lee. “That’s where we want to focus on [with personalised nutrition] and we know that a lot of our clients and exhibitors for sure want to focus on that and are running big programmes on that.”
Optimal health: Building for the future
Lee added that the growing interest in nutrition from large companies that traditionally played in the food or pharmaceutical markets is something that will continue – as companies look to build a greater sense of community and a need to work together as an industry to create optimal health.
“With everyone coming together, we are trying to achieve optimal health,” said Lee – noting that the work being done by companies, that are starting to realise the benefits that good nutrition and disease prevention can bring, could help to take the mounting pressure off healthcare providers.
“The billions that can be saved through the use of food and nutrition, through functional foods, that's where we do need to work collectively as an industry,” said Lee. “I'm of the philosophy that we need to do that, Informa is a stakeholder in that for sure, but we need like-minded people to do that too.”