Highlights from the February 20-22 NatureWorks conference including news of a new Ingeo plant.  

Descending from blue sky serenity to a touchdown in Orlando, FL, NatureWorks’ choice of tropical venue set the stage for their 3rd biennial biopolymer conference. Delegates representing 21 countries predominantly from US, Europe, China and Japan meshed with humanitarians, visionaries and chemists to deliver a strong message; waste not.

The journey truly began with Tom Clyne’s heart retching photo narrative chronicling six individuals whose separate journeys of passion and unselfish giving tipped the scales in favour of humanity. Today’s solitary individual is still capable of making a difference as we learned; from containing pandemic outbreaks to monitoring Greenland’s diminishing glacier resources, trekking Amazon rivers to realizing wildlife reserves to braving road blocks in war torn Afghanistan to rescue neglected animals.  The restoration of life cherishing values certainly resonated with the audience as they applauded these exemplary accomplishments.

Why not an edible yogurt cup?

The leap to present day reality was appropriately facilitated by Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of Stonyfield Farms organic foods.  In 1983 Stonyfield Farms asked the question; “Is it possible to build a food business that can promote health, make money and NOT damage the environment?”  The answer appeared on the next slide with an impressive 21 year Compound Annual Growth Rate of 23.8%, net sales in 2011 were USD 356 million.  It comes as no surprise then that consumers want to eat healthy when confronted with the indisputable facts and health concerns emanating from our food sources.  The staggering rise of obesity among Americans, increased incidents of diabetes, cancers and pesticide related illnesses begs the question, why are we not supporting more organic decisions?  In fact the statistic is that one in three children born in the year 2000 will later become diabetic in the United States.  Alleviating the financial burden on health care would be motivation enough to warrant a shift to healthy food. Stonyfield Farms launched PLA packaging in 2010 and makes a strong case for bio-based packaging leaving the audience with the thought, “Why not an edible yogurt cup?”

Talk about timely intervention.  President Obama's presidential memo requesting government procurers to buy bio-based products supporting healthier choices appeared as breaking news in USA TODAY as the keynote presentations commenced. Drawing attention to the press release Steve Davies, Director Communications & Public Affairs at, NatureWorks LLC,  could not have delivered a more compelling validation for biobased products.  Kate Lewis, Deputy Program Manager of USDA's BioPreferred program, translated the significance of the decree by highlighting the $500 billion USD worth of annual purchases.   Even the lunch speaker Susan Freinkel author of “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story”, conveyed a stern message regarding the utility of a synthetic material gone astray.  How apropos, the formulation of plastic in fact was a failed trial that produced a glob that was considered waste until marketing found a way to mass market an inferior copy for the genuine article. It appears that we have come a full 360  on that point. On a side note, “Slow Death by Rubber Duck”   is an excellent experimental accounting of how toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health.  It’s a must read for sure.

For the duration of the two-day conference, a succession of validating and thought provoking presentations were interspersed with a triple stream of expert panel discussions prompting debate on technologies, process chemistry and marketing initiatives. 

Feeding the world

Memorably, Vice-Chairman Paul Conway’s keynote address delivered from notes and a short video clip depicting Cargill`s philanthropic gesture of delivering rice to the Horn of Africa from India dramatizing the global severity of “Feeding the World”.  The notion that agricultural self-sufficiency is a worthy aspiration is counterproductive and has in actual fact been a root cause to increased food prices.  Governments imposing export bans are interfering with global supply and demand thus intentionally or not driving up prices.  Interestingly enough recent statistics show that many countries are importing nearly the exact tonnage as they export of that identical product.  

It’s not until we hear from  President & CEO Marc Verbruggen that  NatureWorks LLC takes centre stage to address  ``what’s changed since ITR2010.”  Dispelling three popular bio-plastics myths as a review of the Ingeo value proposition at the outset of his presentation is the mark of a master strategist. 

Perhaps the most encouraging news is that by 2015 a second Ingeo plant located in Rayong Province, Thailand is expected to be operational. When that plant is operational, NatureWorks will utilize 3 feedstock sources of corn, sugar cane and cassava. The combined yield capacity of 700 MM lbs. will be delivering to a global market.

The 1st generation family of polymers under the Ingeo Technology Platform now includes a 2nd generation family of monomers and a 3rd generation Ingeo Platform of compounded solutions. 

Marc`s closing statement that ``Game-changing technology requires a “journey” approach” is a mantra to be taken to heart and integrated into daily business practice.  As we all know, life is about the journey.

Dean Bellefleur is a subject matter expert in packaging consulting to private equity management firms and the Food & Beverage Industry. The company website is  D-idea