Musings from SupplySide West 2021

It’s taken me a few weeks to complete this musings piece from SupplySide West, but that’s probably a good thing since it let me get my thoughts together and settled. I also didn’t want this to be a traditional event recap, or only a ‘it’s so good to be back’ piece.

My highlights:

What’s up with Supps:
I’m not a costume guy, but have to say that the What’s Up with Supps was one of the most entertaining and rewarding industry events I’ve been a part of. Kudos to the inspiration of Diana Morgan and to those in the community that just wanted to be together. We are so lucky that we get to work and partner with so many great people.

Jon Benninger and Len
ITC Whats Up with supps
ITC and Amin Talati

Engaged in education:
I didn’t get to spend too much time in the education tracks, but my brief forays suggested an intense interest in education, and we heard that they had to change the room set-up to accommodate the increase in registrations that came in the two weeks prior to the show. This is rewarding in and of itself and bodes well for the industry, but is even more important when you consider that we have had two years of turnover, loss of institutional knowledge and new and recent grads swelling personnel ranks – in fact many were at their first industry event ever. We’ve also had a few years of M&A activity with an influx of new CPG, Pharma and capital partners that need and want to get a sense of both substance and nuance.

Len Panel

Through a new lens:
On the new to industry side, you may have seen a recent Linkedin series from our new colleague Zoe Georgouses. In addition to working on our new Ingredient Transparency Center (ITC) Insights programs, she’s also leading our efforts to shine a light on one of the most opaque aspects of our industry – contract manufacturing. Her primary mission at her first major industry event was to meet and interview several of the industry’s top contract manufacturers and it hit home to me how much we who have been in the industry for so long take for granted. When Zoe asked me ‘why’ on several occasions I struggled for answers, suggesting I may be more prone to assumptions than I thought. Seeing the event and industry through fresh eyes is a true bonus.

Ideas from the watercooler:
We are very fortunate to have had Zoom and Teams technology to support us this past 24 months. I would venture to say that most of those tech-enabled meetings have been very agenda focused and prescriptive. One crucial thing I noticed at SupplySide was the sheer number of spontaneous interactions and watercooler-type conversations that were reminiscent of the co-creation and brainstorming of old. Add in an all-in mentality of commitment and engagement and you have the perfect environment for new idea generation.

Supply…. and demand:
On stage and across the show floor, from a whisper to a roar, much of the dialogue was about supply chain issues. From shortages leading to adulteration, to container costs leading to a spike in raw material costs, to repatriation efforts, execs all around the event were talking about the disruption in supply chain with no end truly in sight. Shortages were exacerbated by a rise in demand as new consumers have entered the supplement market and overall compliance, those consumers taking more supplements more regularly, has increased. Truly it’s a good news, bad news situation.

But it was not only raw materials and packaging materials in short supply. Our industry labor market, like many, is booming, leading to a shortage in key roles including sales, tech support, quality control and product development. As more founders and leaders continue to leave the sector, this institutional knowledge gap is another industry pain point, and mentoring, education of new entrants and a broader understanding of the pressure points this situation creates is worthwhile considering and doubling down on.

Those in attendance and those absent:
Most everyone attending this SupplySide event was there purposefully. That is, they had both an agenda and a commitment. The former led to great, focused business conversations and to project advancement. The latter led to new contacts, relationships, business ideas and strategies. We have missed them both.

Even while appreciating those there, it was evident who was absent – large CPG companies on travel restrictions, hugely vested multinationals (read large EU-based companies), and pretty much the entire Asian contingent. For those international companies with local representation or subsidiaries, no big deal, but for those not represented, a huge miss. We did see new distributors appointed over recent months, in the hopes that this would provide at least some presence. I would suggest though, that the lack of a truly international contingent arguably led to a concentration of meaningful show floor encounters.

To close, there is something just to be said about getting back to normalcy. On top of that the ‘let’s do business’ attitude that was evident led to deals being done. At the same time, in an industry that is so much about global friends and colleagues, many were truly missed. And, I think everyone can agree that while education can sometimes be better fulfilled virtually when it comes to networking in a more intimate setting, in-person shows are necessary and appreciated.