“You say 'tomato,' and I say 'tomahto.'” So goes a line from a song demonstrating how different two approaches to the same thing can be.

Having spent this last decade with one foot in mainstream food manufacturing (where my career and education began), and the other foot in the natural products/dietary supplement industry (resulting in the NutraSolutions arm of Prepared Foods), the different views of these two industries towards consumer health products continues to intrigue me.

For example, in preparation for a Worldnutra speech, I spent time analyzing data from Mintel International's Global New Products Database (GNPD, Chicago). Here are a few observations.

n When looking through records of products launched globally January through September 2004, using the search terms “cardiovascular” and “heart” (and deleting irrelevant items such as heart-shaped candy), nearly 40% of dietary supplements used the term “cardiovascular” in literature or on labels, while less than 5% of foods and beverages did so. Perhaps the food industry simply leans toward more “mainstream” terms such as “heart health.”

n Although both supplements and foods can call attention to their heart-beneficial components, such as omega-3s and folic acid, foods can tout themselves as possessing a heart-healthful nutritional profile (e.g., many note endorsement by a heart association such as Australia's National Heart Foundation); being low in deleterious components (e.g., trans fats); or being a healthful alternative (e.g., olive oil vs. some bread spreads).

n Products linking themselves to reduced cancer risk are scarce. (Or, more specifically, products using the term “cancer” in association with product attributes are rare.) I had to extend the search period back seven years to January 1998 to find barely 100 such products. In comparison, the heart health/cardiovascular search resulted in some 280 products launched in the first nine months of 2004 alone. Regulations and marketers wishing to avoid the use of the consumer-unfriendly term “cancer” are likely two reasons.

However, the industries also have a number of things in common. Both are challenged to communicate often-complex nutritional messages to consumers. Many in both trades are driven by a key wish to assist consumers with health conditions. And, both use nutraceutical-type ingredients such as lycopene, which is found in tomatoes…or tomahtoes.

Lastly, Prepared Foods congratulates Dr. Julie Miller Jones, winner of the William F. Geddes Memorial Award at this year's American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) meeting, and one of our contributing editors.

Sidebar 1: Picking Up on PIX

ProductInnovationXchange (PIX) is an event that fosters customized and confidential discussions between two key partners in the development of new or reformulated products. Senior executives in R&D and/or marketing at food manufacturing companies, along with their innovative ingredient suppliers, meet to discuss specific challenges that the supplier and its products might help solve.

Although crucial information should be exchanged between ingredient vendors and their customers' R&D and marketing departments on a routine basis, interruptions from day-to-day tasks often interfere. The objective of the three-day PIX event is to focus on identifying solutions for processors in a setting that allows for private and professional discussions between vendor and processor.

One senior R&D executive from the April 2004 event observed that the discussions were "Definitely much more in-depth than what you could have in an office environment and…it was tailored to our needs so the depth of the conversation and the solutions presented far surpassed anything you could do in the office."

Work is now underway to develop next year's April 2005 event. Meetings will once again be scheduled through a needs-matching program that pairs a company's new product development initiatives with supplier ingredient and technology portfolios.

And, before meetings are held, groundwork once again is to take place—from the creation of “white papers” detailing the food processor's information interests to the posting of selected information on PIX's secure Xtranet website. The purpose is to ensure the eventual meetings are strategic, insightful and substantive sales exchanges.

For vendors, the event offers a unique opportunity to better understand the needs of—and to meet with—key R&D and marketing clients. For processors, the ultimate goal is to enhance their efficiency by shortening the product development process.

This year's PIX strategic sales event will take place at the Carefree Conference Resort, Carefree, Ariz., April 24-27, 2005. For more information, contact Elizabeth Lange at 952-736-9393 or Elizabeth@pi-xchange.com, or visit www.pi-xchange.com.

--A Message from the organizers of PIX