The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics celebrated its 100th anniversary with a jam-packed Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Chicago last month. As always, Pulse was in attendance, visiting with clients and dietitians, and getting a feel for emerging trends in the nutrition world.
Unlike other years, however, our key take-aways had less to do with food or ingredient trends, and more to do with shifts in how food companies are using FNCE to engage with registered dietitians.
Education Taking a Back Seat?
FNCE has always represented an excellent opportunity for food companies to educate dietitians about their products. As attendees flood the expo floor between educational sessions, food companies can conduct presentations at their booths and engage dietitians in one-on-one conversations. That’s certainly still happening at FNCE, but this year more than most, we saw a larger percentage of exhibitors focusing on “infotainment” or high-volume sampling as opposed to education. Granted, a large convention with more than 12,000 attendees is not the optimal setting for education, but the value of building a relationship of trust and credibility between dietitians and healthy food brands cannot be understated. Education is the foundation of this relationship. So whether at FNCE or through direct outreach throughout the year when many of those 12,000 attendees are busy counseling consumers, we prefer to see healthy brands focusing on education, and we know that’s the type of engagement health professionals prefer.
Continuing the Conversation
We also noted that many exhibitors had spent significant time and money on their presence at FNCE with little thought given to how they would continue the conversation with dietitians once the convention floor empties. FNCE is a great way to connect with registered dietitians, but it is only three days each year. Consistently, year after year, dietitians tell us that it’s the engagement throughout the year, and not just at FNCE, that makes the biggest difference in what they recommend to patients and clients. FNCE offers an opportunity for them to learn about and sample new food brands—and learn about new products and innovations from companies they are already familiar with—but for food companies to add real, lasting value to the conversations dietitians are having with patients and clients throughout the year, they need to provide a drumbeat of education, resources, and information that dietitians can directly share with their patients and clients during face-to-face counseling.
It’s hard to beat the exposure and goodwill a healthy food brand can generate by exhibiting at FNCE. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle. We remain committed to meeting the needs of health professionals and healthy brands by bringing the two groups together the other 362 days a year.