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Science, Safety and Advocacy: Q&A with Howard Smith, Jr., president of IOFI

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  • Howard Smith, Jr., a fourth generation flavor executive and president of Virginia Dare, has worked with the family business which is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York. Smith Jr. is also the first IOFI delegate to serve as the association's president.
  • Brussels Flavour Day voting sessions.
  • The most popular workshop invited attendees to learn the flavor creation process and how it is implemented into the final product. Attendees worked with two flavorists to choose between vanilla and citrus flavorings, where they also learned that flavor preferences are based on a variety of cultural, emotional and mental factors. The final product was the delegate's chosen flavor in a personalized macaroon.

Howard Smith Jr., president, International Organization of the Flavor Industry (IOFI) is a fourth-generation flavor executive and president of Virginia Dare, headquartered in Brooklyn, New York (and founded by his great-grandfather in 1923).

As the first association delegate to become IOFI president, Smith has served the organization for many years as an IOFI Board member, IOFI vice president and treasurer. No stranger to giving back to the industry through association work, Smith is also the fourth member of his family to have served as Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) president (2008–2009), following in the footsteps of his paternal forebears.

Brussels Flavour Day

In June 2017, the flavor industry had organized a first of its kind event in Brussels. Under the logo of Brussels FlavourDay, the European, Belgian and global organizations came together to exchange ideas and visions about the role of flavorings in the food of the future. With a keynote speech from one of the world’s most famous trend watchers and an interactive panel with an EU commissioner, the participants gained insights into trends to come and the role of flavorings in them. They even got the chance to engage and further explore this role during an interactive session and three ateliers.

The event was organized by EFFA (the European Flavour Association), together with AROMA (the Belgian Flavour Association) and IOFI (the International Organization of the Flavor Industry). During the following weeks, the presidents of the three associations will tell us more about the event, the themes discussed and the present and future of the industry.

Perfumer & Flavorist: You were appointed as IOFI’s president last year, what has been your main objective since you started?

Howard Smith Jr.: Under the umbrella of our recently updated vision “Global leadership in the world of flavorings,” we have the following mission: “The International Organization of the Flavor Industry advances the global trade of safe, responsibly produced flavorings that respect the environment and enrich the lives of consumers.”

My main objective is implementing this mission and the strategic objectives that support it. At IOFI, we accomplish this through the IOFI secretariat staff and extremely capable industry volunteers who serve on committees in the organization. Our vision and mission positions the organization well for challenges and opportunities ahead. It is evolutionary, in the sense that we are continuing to serve the industry in the arenas of science, safety and advocacy, but we are bringing more focus on communicating externally with various stakeholder groups. Also, we have reinforced the need to work closely with our member associations to align our overall efforts in support of the industry.

P&F: What are some of IOFI’s upcoming goals in serving the flavor industry?

HS: To support our global position, we have been actively reaching out to the Latin America and Asia Pacific regions. We developed a successful model, working with the member associations in LATAM, through which we brought regulatory and advocacy expertise with a better understanding of how IOFI works to support member associations to the region. We have used that model now in APAC, with a very promising meeting there earlier this year, with significant follow up work since. And we continue to reach out to “future member” regions, like India and the Middle East, through task force work and individual meetings.

As mentioned, our communication has changed and evolved—we are aiming to speak more about the organization and our role to audiences both internal and external. We also are working with our fragrance industry partner IFRA on developing a sustainability initiative.

P&F: In your opinion, what is the most critical issue the flavor industry is currently facing?

HS: The proper use of sound science to defend the safety of our industry’s materials. We have a robust science program that supports the needs of global regulatory bodies; our science team—both staff and industry volunteers—contains some of the best thinkers in flavor science. They are always on the lookout for new techniques that can support the needs of the risk assessment bodies. How we communicate—on both the science and regulatory fronts—is a big challenge for us. We are confident in our approaches because we have a lot of expertise and experience on our side. Yet, sometimes, this is difficult to convey.

“Our communication has changed and evolved—we are aiming to speak more about the organization and our role to audiences both internal and external.”

P&F: Regulatory criteria change from region to region; how does IOFI work with each region to maintain safety for both the company and the consumer?

HS: Our Regulatory Advisory and Advocacy Committee (RAAC) is a terrific resource for us. With members from around the globe—both from companies and associations—the RAAC has its finger on the pulse of regulatory trends and emerging issues. With these professionals working together with our Secretariat staff, we can identify areas that need advocacy support today and in the future. The RAAC also helps us recognize where education and training is required, for example on the Global Poundage Survey. A RAAC team accompanied the staff to LATAM to bring everyone up to speed on the common methodology for collecting data, the ways it can be checked for accuracy and so on.

Also, we offer an important tool to both our membership and non-member stakeholders: The IOFI Global Reference List (GRL) is an up-to-date list of flavoring materials that are considered to be safe for their intended use by one or more internationally recognized assessment bodies. The GRL provides full transparency on the ingredients used in the creation of flavorings. This is a great tool for flavor development, global trade and more. We maintain it as a service for the industry and make it available on our public website.

P&F: With events such as Brussels FlavourDay as a means to educate consumers to the complexity and safety of flavor, what are some other communication strategies IOFI will be working on in the future?

HS: Communication about flavorings is a challenge—we provide key ingredients in the products of our customers, the food and beverage companies. So we have adopted an external communication plan, one that shows the innovation and contribution of this industry to products worldwide. We will use our website (when we launch a new version later this year) as an avenue to inform people about our industry. We are still a business-to-business industry, but we enrich people’s taste experiences through our customers’ products.

"We are a mature organization with very good lines of communication with our members, associations and companies alike."

FlavorDay gave us a chance for attendees to understand the industry a bit better. The emphasis on flavor trends, on safety of materials, on how flavorings can help with a healthy diet—these are all areas that are of interest beyond the flavor industry. EFFA has further events planned in countries represented by their association; we are taking the opportunity to learn from their experiences so we can offer best practices from this type of event to our other members worldwide. And who knows—when we celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2019, maybe we’ll have a global flavor day event!

P&F: Along with your work with IOFI, you’ve served as president of Virginia Dare, as well as a representative of FEMA. As a flavor industry pro working on both the company and association level, what are some gaps you’re seeing in the industry that need to be filled?

HS: The world of flavors is getting smaller, especially in science, advocacy and communications. Through IOFI, we have continued to improve the sharing of best practices in these areas. We are a mature organization with very good lines of communication with our members, associations and companies alike. I mentioned volunteers earlier—we have over 150 volunteers working on at least 20 committees and working groups.

Why is this important? It shows the commitment of our flavor companies to the industry. It affords IOFI with the opportunity to draw on the knowledge and experience of top-notch professionals. And it brings a truly global perspective to all that we do. As president, I certainly appreciate and applaud the contributions of our volunteers. Having them contribute as they do reduces the very idea of “gaps” in the industry!

P&F: What does the future of flavor look like to you?

HS: Extremely bright! We have an interesting, growing industry that makes a difference in the lives of consumers. We have industry commitment to safety, innovation, sustainability and global trade. We work hard to meet the needs of our customers, and we play a key role when trends in consumers’ tastes change. It’s a great industry with a lot of opportunities—for bright and creative people—be they scientists, regulatory folks or communications pros. I’ve been in this business for many years, and I look forward to more exciting challenges in the years ahead.