Bringing the Industry Together May 21, 2021

IFEAT’s First Virtual Conference
19th – 21st January 2021

Over the past 40 years IFEAT and its conferences have been an intrinsic part of the Ultra Group’s development, and one of the highlights of our year. Who can forget IFEAT’s last conference in Bali in October 2019, where Ravi was Joint Conference Chairperson. In a wonderful location in southern Bali over 1,500 participants enjoyed superb networking facilities, a four-day trade exhibition, a wide range of presentations, panel and roundtable discussions, superb cuisines and a cultural extravaganza. All these combined to ensure that the Bali Conference was a runaway success that participants will never forget. However in 2020, to everyone’s great disappointment, the COVID pandemic led to the cancellation of the eagerly anticipated Berlin October Conference, which meant that IFEAT had to move quickly to try to organise an alternative event.

Using the recent rapid advances in technology and software packages that have facilitated a considerable improvement in on-line communication links, IFEAT decided to organise its first Virtual Conference (VC) from 19th – 21st January 2021, aptly titled Bringing the Industry Together. It was a very steep learning curve for almost everyone involved – IFEAT, member companies, participants, presenters and session chairs. Nevertheless, the VC platform enabled a wide range of activities to be undertaken which included both live and previous presentations from the Athens, Cartagena and Bali conferences, panel discussions, Q/A sessions, the creation of company and participants’ private “virtual booths” facilitating meetings between the large number of delegates, as well as the opportunity of accessing and disseminating company videos and literature. In all some 110 “virtual booths” were established and over 500 delegates registered. For IFEAT and for many of the participants this was part of a rapid upward learning curve necessitated by the pandemic. While it was recognised that it would be impossible to totally replicate several of the activities of a physical conference (e.g. smelling and tasting products, face-to-face meetings, cultural exchanges and entertainments, impromptu meetings and discussions, social interactions and an accompanying persons programme), it was generally agreed that this first VC proved to be an excellent first step – and achieved its major objective of “bringing the industry together”.

IFEAT is to be congratulated on organising its first VC. Nevertheless, the entire Ultra Team really missed not being at an actual conference! During the 2020 pandemic every company in order to survive has had to adapt, innovate and quickly adopt new production, processing, logistical and marketing practices whether it be a rapid increase in e-commerce or home working and virtual meetings. Similarly, future IFEAT conferences should be able to benefit from the experience of its first VC. This could be in terms of creating “hybrid” conferences which combine both a physical and virtual conference, facilitating the attendance of a greater number of participants, or in encouraging new modes of delivery and interactions. However, the physical conference has been the dominant reason for IFEAT’s existence and identity and a VC could never totally replace a physical conference and we look forward eagerly to the next full IFEAT conference.

The Ultra Group contributed to IFEAT’s first VC in several ways, including making a major presentation on citrus oils, providing sponsorship, purchasing booths and registering a number of delegates from its Indian, Indonesian, USA and UK operations. One successful innovation of the VC was the introduction of crop reports, which should become a feature of future IFEAT conferences. A crop report was presented on each day: mint on day one, citrus on day two and an overview of spices on the final day. The Ultra International BV expertise on citrus oils was reflected in Colin Ringleib’s excellent presentation on key factors affecting current citrus oil production, processing and marketing. A summary of his presentation is reproduced on pages 20-26 of this Spring Market Report. In the same session, Sergio Davalos of COTA Ltda. Argentina presented a market report on lemon oil.

Mint is the second largest group of essential oils after citrus oils and another informative crop report was made by Ankush Agarwal of Firmenich Essex Mint JV on the production, processing, uses, future trends and the various challenges and complexities (e.g. adulteration, synthetic competition, farming practices etc.) facing several mint oils. The presentation concentrated on development in the two dominant producing countries, India and the USA. The final crop report on spices by Adityan KB of Plant Lipids provided a brief overview of their history and global supply chain, followed by a discussion of the impact of COVID-19 and details of the supply, demand, carry forward stocks, price history and future outlook for a range of spices and oils. The many challenges facing the spice supply chain were outlined including climate change, agrochemical usage, plant diseases, adulterants and the need to develop sustainable supply chains for spices. Included in each of the crop reports was a live and very informative Q/A session. Key findings contained in the three crop reports have been incorporated into the market analysis of the individual oils contained in this report.

Overall a wealth of information was made available during the VC – and each presentation and its Q/A session along with panel discussions would each be worth a separate article – and it is impossible here to summarise the wide range of topics and issues analysed. In all, during the VC, there were some 33 presentations and three excellent panel discussions. Another innovative feature of the VC was that all these presentations and discussions were made available until the end of February, enabling delegates to revisit presentations and discussions in their own time.

An overall theme of the VC was the dramatic impacts, both negative and positive, that the COVID-19 pandemic had made throughout both the value chain of the F&F sector and the global economy, and thus on the future of our industry. Some sectors have benefitted greatly (e.g. the growth in demand for products with antiseptic and medicinal properties, aromatherapy products) whilst others have been badly affected (e.g. the fine fragrance and food service sectors; the reduced availability of labour for harvesting and processing certain products). The first two sessions of the VC were particularly enlightening, namely the panel discussion on Business & Naturals: Trends & Challenges 2020 and 2021 and Givaudan’s Michael Carlos on The F&F sector in a COVID world, which updated his excellent presentation at the IFEAT Athens Conference in 2017. The panel discussion, chaired by Dominque Roques of Firmenich, brought together five very knowledgeable individuals from different sectors and regions providing in-depth perspectives on the current state and future challenges faced in the production, processing, distribution and markets for natural ingredients in the F&F and aromatherapy sectors.

Carlos’s thought-provoking presentation discussed how the coming decade will see transformational changes in the F&F industry. He argued that the move to naturals will continue to expand exponentially, especially in the flavour space, creating increased pressure on the supply chain; regulatory and environmental concerns will become even more challenging creating a continued movement towards greater transparency and sustainability; acquisitions will continue mainly with larger companies taking over smaller operations; artificial intelligence is likely to revolutionise the creative process, while the continued rapid expansion of e-commerce and social media, the proliferation of new brands and the resurgence of national interests will create new opportunities and business models.

The second day began with a series of five short presentations by senior figures in F&F covering some of the increasingly complex regulatory and scientific issues facing the industry. Topics covered included CMR constituents in naturals, the Nagoya Protocol, CITES, REACH, CLP and pesticides. The presentations were followed by an excellent panel discussion chaired by Sven Ballschmiede of IOFI along with a delegate Q/A session. The panel discussion was followed by Frank Mara’s wide-ranging Bali Conference presentation and an assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on the industry.

The final panel discussion of the VC, moderated by Kim Bleimann, was devoted to the rapidly expanding aromatherapy industry and how it intersects with science and safety. Four senior industry experts briefly explained their work and then discussed how essential oils are sold and marketed to the millions of aromatherapy endusers. The discussion was preceded by two interesting presentations; one was a critical review of safety and risk assessment research undertaken on a number of essential oils (by Dr R. Tisserand) and the other on the anti-viral properties of various essential oils and extracts (by Dr D. Strub).

Networking facilities are a key feature of a physical conference. In one trip a company can meet up with a large proportion of its clients as well as meet new ones, thus saving considerable amounts of time and money. While the “virtual booths” went some way towards facilitating this networking ability they were unable to fully re-create an actual conference networking environment. Nevertheless, the Ultra Group generated a lot of business through its “virtual booths” at the VC. Moreover, some companies were able to organise webinars as well as disseminate various information on their products and activities.

Thus, IFEAT’s first VC created a platform by which attendees were able to meet up with existing and potential clients. In addition, delegates were able to update themselves on the impact of COVID-19 and other new developments in the F&F sector, as well as put questions to experts on a wide range of relevant subjects. In this respect the VC was able to almost duplicate most of the benefits of an actual conference. It is hoped that IFEAT will be able to make all these presentations and discussions available on its website both for existing and future members of this fascinating and ever-changing industry.