Musings from Probiota Americas 2019

Probiota is the collaboration between William Reed’s NutraIngredients brand and the International Probiotic Association (IPA), a 5-year relationship that has solidified the probiotic community worldwide. Currently there are three global events in the series, Europe, the Americas and Asia, one of which each year is labelled as IPA’s World Congress. The most recent event, the 5th Probiota Americas, in Vancouver, Canada included the IPA Wold Congress and grouped well over 250 participants representing ingredient companies, brands and academics.

When William Reed and IPA originally joined forces, it was to create an evolving event that captured the entire potential of the category. It was to bring that balance of applied science and the business of science to life in an environment that triggered new connections, ideas, collaborations and ultimately category development and maturation. The dialogue was to transcend national borders yet drive appropriate regulation and identify gaps to be addressed in future applied global research and policy.

Some of these lofty objectives have been realized. So, what’s next?

The conversation in and around probiotics is actually about the entire microbiome and mechanistic details are now more understood and yet at the same time more complex as we discuss responder populations, synbiotics, diagnostics and technology. Trying to capture all of that in a single 3-day event is impossible. And of course, Probiota is also the regional IPA event to discuss association issues and so precious time must be allocated committee reports, meetings and policy updates.

The Vancouver Probiota event did deliver strong ROI for most attendees, yet for others, especially those in the prebiotic market, was found seriously wanting. In past years, a pre-conference Prebiotic workshop covered many aspects broader than probiotics. This year however, it appeared as though organizers sought to gratuitously insert ‘prebiotics’ into several other sessions and presentations (i.e. Building Trust in Pre and Probiotics’) an exercise that went poorly as prebiotics weren’t mentioned at all – other than in the title despite the fact that according to NBJ data US prebiotic supplement sales are more than doubling annually. In the data component of the presentations, William Reed updated its Lumina intelligence offering (legitimately featuring an analysis of the online probiotic market), while a Euromonitor presentation talked about the plateauing of the probiotic market and examined forces that would alter this trajectory and restore growth without once mentioning either prebiotics or even more appropriately synbiotics, the combination of pre and probiotic ingredients in a single formula, currently an unsubstantiated yet developing marketing opportunity, but once defined, a significant category growth chance.

Many of the key global probiotic ingredient companies and regional brands make Probiota a priority, and that engagement is the core of the Probiota value. Brand engagement is always a challenging denominator, certainly the case in Vancouver, and while the Probiota team originally had good success with networking activities, at this stage one could argue that the community already knows each other and so that time might be better spent on the business of science.

In a nutritional science conference such as Probiota, it’s always difficult to put together a curriculum filled entirely with plenary rather than more focused breakout sessions yet keep the entire audience engaged. The Vancouver Probiota did this with a couple highly promising presentations, one from Dr. Ida Gisela Pantoja-Feliciano from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center and the other, a keynote address by Dr. Brenda MacArthur, representing the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

The event’s round-table lunch discussions always provide an interesting opportunity to gauge relative interest across a variety of topics. This event featured twenty-nine hosted tables of ten, for an hour-long lunch discussion. Many of the tables were chaired by sponsors, a few others by either NutraIngredients-USA, broader William Reed or IPA staff. Since many are sponsored, there’s an obvious agenda and lead cycle in play. The challenge/opportunity of these tables though is significant; it depends on preparation and enthusiasm. They can be the filter for new ideas and engagement if done properly – and they can and do often hit topics not on the formal curriculum.

Probiota is not for the faint of heart or lean of pocketbook. It’s a major commitment into what is currently, according to Euromonitor, a plateauing category. Yet technology and a much expanded base of microbiome science mean that new learnings, products, partnerships and possibilities are all around us. It’s an exciting time and broader category, for those supplying probiotics but also for those supplying the widening group of ingredients that are being shown to act within and upon the microbiome. Now it remains to be seen if Probiota in the future will truly deliver on its promise to be “The leading annual event for the prebiotic, probiotic and microbiota focused food and pharma industries”.