Jens Birrer

Jens Birrer is member of the executive committee of NATCOL. Founded in 1979, NATCOL is an international non-profit organization based in Brussels, Belgium. It promotes the use of natural colors as well as coloring foods and represents the interest of its members towards European and other international institutions and organizations.
Jens Birrer is working for DSM Nutritional Products Ltd. where he is responsible for DSM’s global coloration and antioxidants business since 2016. Jens Birrer joined DSM in 2005 as a global business intelligence manager, moved then to the aroma ingredients business in 2008 before joining the global Human Nutrition & Health marketing department in 2013 to take care of the carotenoids portfolio. He obtained his MBA from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.


Mikel Cirkus
Global Director, Strategic Foresight
Flavors Division, Firmenich

As a modern anthropologist and self-proclaimed itinerant semiotician, Mikel wades through the noise of society to find the signals that could dictate the next big consumer trend of tomorrow. Incorporating over thirty-years of global insights, wisdom, and experience with a truly creative lens, Mikel uses strategic foresight to identify simultaneous developments on the fringe and recognizes patterns as they materialize into trends. Beyond merely ‘connecting the dots,’ Mikel’s foresight brings a cultural depth to brand authenticity as well as the lifestyle factors that will shape the future of the food and beverage industry.

As a designer, photographer, illustrator and writer, Mikel brings a unique perspective on the rapidly changing world of trends, content creation, and execution. He is currently the Global Director of Strategic Foresight for the Flavors Division of Firmenich, the largest privately-owned company in the fragrance and flavor industry – where creativity is both an essence and a guiding principle. He has worked personally with many of the most innovative people in marketing, R&D, technical applications and brand management, on hundreds of products in nearly every category of consumer package goods, worldwide. Mikel is a graduate of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California and makes his home in the Princeton, NJ area.


Joanna Drake, JD
Verto Legal Solutions

Ms. Drake focuses her practice on food and regulatory-related issues to provide sophisticated legal counsel to trade associations and companies in the food and beverage industry. Ms. Drake brings almost a decade of industry experience to her clients. Prior to joining Verto Legal Solutions, she served as Assistant Counsel to WILD Flavors, Inc., where she structured and negotiated a variety of commercial transactions, counseled on corporate confidentiality issues and provided strategic guidance on FDA regulatory compliance. Before joining the legal team at WILD, Ms. Drake worked in the Scientific and Regulatory Affairs group where she managed the corporate organic program, drafted bulk product labels, and provided timely guidance on finished product labeling, GRAS status and food additive compliance.

Ms. Drake received her J.D. from Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law. Ms. Drake received her M.A. in Applied Economics from the University of Cincinnati and her B.A. in International Affairs from Xavier University where she also majored in German.


Mindee Fernando
Strategic Sourcing Manager, Global Colors
Mars Wrigley Confectionery

Mindee Fernando is Mars Wrigley Confectionery’s strategic sourcing manager for Global Colors. Her experience has brought her around the world in search of colors for some of the world’s most beloved and delicious brands, from M&M’s® and SNICKERS® to ORBIT®, JUICY FRUIT® and ALTIOIDS® to STARBURST® and SKITTLES®. In her current role, she partners with suppliers to ensure quality and manage supply for the global confectionery manufacturer.

Prior to Mars, Mindee spent time at McDonald’s Corporation and Kraft Heinz in a variety of Sourcing roles. Mindee has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Masters of Business Administration degree.


Brian Finrow
CEO and co-founder
Lumen Bioscience

Brian Finrow is CEO and co-founder of Lumen Bioscience, a Seattle biotechnology company that uses its proprietary Spirulina engineering and production platform to develop improved versions of Spirulina extract, a natural alternative to FD&C Blue #1. In collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other leading research organizations, Lumen is also using this technology platform to develop antibody therapeutics and recombinant vaccines to address critical unmet needs in healthcare.

Before Lumen, Mr. Finrow was a senior executive with Adaptive Biotechnologies, a next-generation sequencing company, where he managed legal affairs, IP strategy and corporate development matters, and led the company through a series of capital transactions valued at more than $400 million. Earlier in his career Mr. Finrow practiced law with Cooley LLP for nearly a decade, where he advised over 100 public and private companies and VC firms in the life sciences and IT industries through a range of transactions.

Mr. Finrow earned his law degree, cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where he was an Executive Editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.


Elvira Gonzalez De Mejia, M. Sc., Ph. D., C.F.S.
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Division of Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois

Dr. Elvira de Mejia is a Professor, Assistant Dean for Research, Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences and University Scholar. She has published over 200 peer-reviewed scientific publications and 27 chapters in books in the areas of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The long-range goal of her research program is to enhance the health of individuals by the identification and evaluation of the benefits of bioactive compounds in plant foods. Her research is focused on plant food components with health benefits; analysis, chemical and biological characterization and their mechanism of action. Dr. de Mejia investigates bioactive peptides and proteins in foods that promote health benefits for reducing inflammation, markers of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease risk. She identifies and characterizes the functional properties of food components, notably flavonoids in ethnic teas, herbs, berries, cereals and legumes.


P. Vincent Hegarty
Founding Director , International Food Law Program
Founding Director, Institute for Food Laws & Regulations (IFLR)
Michigan State University (MSU).

Dr. Hegarty is an Adjunct Professor of the MSU College of Law, and Professor Emeritus of the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.  He has degrees in Biochemistry, Human Nutrition and Economics.  He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of London, England.  He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology.  He has had visiting Professorships at universities in Africa, Asia, Canada, Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East.  He has written four books.  His consultancies include:  WHO, FAO, NIH, FAS/USDA, USAID, Pew Charitable Trust, etc.  Dr. Hegarty teaches the online Codex Alimentarius course.


Greg Horn
Director of Color Research

Greg Horn has been in the beverage and food industry for over 35 years. Greg has a broad experience and has played key roles in product development, launching new & innovative beverages and food products worldwide, and ingredient research including natural colors, taste modifiers, natural high intensity sweeteners, and health ingredients. For the last 5 years, Greg has been the Director of Color Research at ADM specializing in developing breakthrough colors that enable our customers to offer visually appealing, stable, novel beverages and food products in the market. Greg leads several international teams within ADM to strengthen our offerings of unique ingredients that solve customer issues.

Greg has presented dozens of papers globally on natural colors and other ingredients for the food industry. Greg obtained Master degrees in Food Science from UC Davis and in Business from NYU-Polytechnic.


Dr. Neil Hunt
Yordas Group

Dr Neil Hunt was originally a development chemist, gaining his degree and PhD in organometallic chemistry from Bristol University, UK under the supervision of Professor Guy Lloyd-Jones.  He then worked for Millennium Pharmaceuticals and Sigma-Aldrich as a development and scale-up chemist for over 10 years.  Having completed a Masters Degree in Environmental Management and Consultancy at Lancaster University, he has worked for Yordas Group (ex-The REACH Centre) for over 8 years.  Having initially specialized in the areas of chemical characterization and REACH Authorisation, he has expanded his experience into all areas of chemical regulations.  Neil leads the Yordas chemical exposure team and provides the technical proficiency for a number of EU funded projects investigating the exposure and risk arising from the use of engineered nanomaterials, including the MARINA, SUN, NanoMONITOR and GRACIOUS projects.  He has also been a member of the Partner Expert Group for the revision of the Guidance documents for the registration of nanomaterials under REACH and has represented companies to the European Chemicals Agency and the Member State Committee as part of the substance evaluation process in REACH.  Finally, he provides training courses in chemical exposure assessment and extended safety data sheets for Yordas Group and is the company monitor for developments in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.


Kevin C. Kenny, J.D., LL.M
Chief Operating Officer

Kevin is co-founder and owner of Decernis and is an experienced regulatory attorney who has worked and consulted for 22 years in the food and consumer products space.  He advises some of the world’s largest manufacturers on Food Additive, Food Contact and Supply Chain Compliance challenges globally. Working with a team of native speaker experts in all major markets, Kevin has led a Decernis team effort to expand regulatory coverage to over 212 countries.  He spends much of the year meeting with clients to identify and satisfy their needs across the Decernis global client base.

Kevin also builds cooperative and partnering relationships with governmental agencies and organizations (today 40+ countries across five continents, including USA, European Union, Argentina, Brazil, China and India).

An expert on food contact and food additive regulation globally, Kevin is a frequent speaker at international conferences and an active participant in the Regulatory Affairs Committees of food, cosmetic and consumer product associations.  Kevin also attends the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Additives (CCFA) in China annually as a member of the International Food Additives Council and has done extensive capacity building training seminars for governments in Africa and Asia on Food Additives, Labelling and Food Contact regulation.  Kevin is a proponent of both global and regional harmonization and has provided food compliance regulatory consulting services for both food processors and regulatory agencies across all food-related compliance issues for 200+ countries.

Prior to founding Decernis, Kevin worked as a regulatory attorney and later VP, International Operations at Ariel Research, which managed product safety regulations globally for chemical manufacturers.  Previously he taught Public International Law at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel, Germany.

Kevin has lived and worked for seven years across five European and Asian countries and is fluent in German, Spanish and French. He is currently learning Italian. He possesses an honors Juris Doctor, an LL.M. in International Law and the Hague Diplôm de Droit International.  In 1992, he was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship in Bonn, Germany.


Keith Nunes
Food Business News

Keith Nunes knows the food and beverage industry.

He has spent the past 25 years writing about the production, formulation, processing and consumption of food and beverage products. His experience has introduced him to the leaders of the industry’s largest companies and the entrepreneurs who are driving change throughout the supply chain.

His work rejects the myths and hype around food and clearly gets to the heart of the complex process of transporting raw materials from the field, turning them into finished products and delivering them to the consumer’s table in a safe and efficient manner.

As the Executive Editor of Food Business News, he has led the editorial department from a start-up in 2005 to the industry’s leading news source today.

This morning he is going to be talking about what he calls the “golden age of food,” a period of dramatic change that is happening right now in the industry and will resonate for years to come.


Valerie Rayner

Valerie has worked in the colors industry for 25 years.  She began her career as a food technologist working in color applications then moved on to roles in product development and quality before regulatory became her full-time job role.  She has chaired the legislation working group at NATCOL since 2009.

Valerie joined Phytone in 2013, which was a part of FMC and became a part of DuPont last year.


Chris Savage
Senior Director of Global Environmental Affairs
E. & J. Gallo Winery

Chris Savage is Senior Director of Global Environmental Affairs for E. & J. Gallo Winery, the world’s largest family-owned winery.

In his current capacity, Chris directs all environmental compliance efforts for E. & J. Gallo Winery as well as for its associated businesses which includes fifteen producing wineries, a bottling operation facility, a glass manufacturing plant, printing and label manufacturing operations and Gallo’s vineyard operations.  Additionally, Chris handles global environmental issues that face or could impact Gallo’s international and domestic business.

Since joining E. & J. Gallo Winery in 2001, Chris has participated in or led a number of notable efforts including helping establish and grow the Winery’s corporate and environmental affairs group, working to qualify the E. & J. Gallo Winery as the first winery in the United States to receive the International Organization of Standards ISO 14001 certification for managing and reducing its impact on the environment, and expanding and refining the wine industry’s Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices.

Chris is a member or involved in several international organizations including the International Federation of Wine and Spirits (FIVS) and the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV).  Additionally, Chris has been an active member of the Manufacturers Council of the Central Valley since its inception in 1991 and he currently sits on the organizations executive committee as its president.  He is involved with the Wine Institute where he serves as the chair of the group’s environmental committee.  He is also a member of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance where he serves on its Board of Directors.


Wenjin Zhang
R&D Director
Henan Zhongda Hengyuan Biotechnology Stock Co., Ltd

Wenjin Zhang is the Senior Engineer and R&D Director of Henan Zhongda Hengyuan Biotechnology Stock Co., Ltd., as well as a professional provider of Natural Color Solution for the Food & Beverage industry in China. Mr. Zhang has an educational background in Food Engineering and has  over 20 years of experience in food and food additives. His research is mainly engaged in the application of Natural Colors and Natural Antioxidants etc., specializing in the formulation application of Natural Colors in foods such as meat, noodles, beverages and confectionery etc. Wenjin Zhang has participated in drafting and revising National Standard of Natural Colors and the application of scope and dosage of Natural Colors  in China since 1993. He has a number of Invention Patents for Natural Colors Application, and also won The Second Prize of Provincial Science & Technology Progress.