Five Takeaways From IFT FIRST
October 18, 2023
For professionals wanting to keep on top of trends, innovations and solutions in food science and technology, there’s no annual conference and expo that rivals IFT FIRST. At this year’s event, held July 16-19 in Chicago, North Carolina Food Innovation Lab Pilot Plant Manager Joe Hildebrand gained insights into the latest directions in food science and technology.
Put on by the Institute of Food Technologists, FIRST (short for “food improved by research, science and technology”) is the world’s leading food technology conference and biggest business-to-business food expo.
After having time to digest the Expo fully, Hildebrand, a certified culinary scientist who helps food entrepreneurs bring their products from concept to market, shares his top five takeaways:
5. AI in Innovation. Artificial Intelligence is coming — or rather, it has arrived. Research and development and commercialization teams are increasingly turning to AI to scope out potential targets for innovation. Of course, the real work of advancing the science of food comes down to individuals, but in the search for novel bioactives, functionality or formulation, AI can be a tool for guidance.
Example Companies: Brightseed, Shiru, Blue Cocoon Digital
4. Indulgent Luxury. People are focused on health and wellness, but they’re also aware of the need to indulge from time to time. Some of the most consistently popular booths at IFT FIRST showcase the standbys of sugar, salt and fat. While consumers will always look for opportunities to indulge, diet shifts could make those opportunities increasingly sparse. To serve greater markets, many companies are developing versions of their ingredients that are considered “better for you”, are allergen free, and/or are meeting other certifications.
Example Companies: Butter Buds, Blommer Chocolate, Kikkoman
3. Upcycled Ingredients/Food Waste Reduction. Reducing food waste has been top of mind for many consumers recently. A parallel food industry trend has been to find ways to pull value out of food waste streams. Upcycling helps meet both goals, reducing waste and creating value-added products. Some of the most common means of upcycling are recovering ingredients from spent grain, using the whole food rather than just parts, and developing nonfood applications for what would otherwise be waste.
Example Companies: Upcycled Foods Inc., Evergrain, Rind, Outcast Nutrition
2. Plant-Based Proteins and Ingredients. Plants continue to be a focus of innovation — one that doesn’t seem to be going away. Consumers are increasingly looking for plant-powered foods that benefit the planet and themselves. While not novel, extraction and purification of ingredients from “novel” sources has become popular. Chickpea ingredients made up one of the most prominent protein categories at IFT FIRST, and a new perennial grain called Kernza®, protein from sunflower, and natural colors produced through fermentation also garnered attention.
Example Companies: InnovoPro, Sustain-a-Grain, Apparo, Phytolon
1. Sugar Reduction/New Sweetener Technology. This trend continues to be a hotbed of innovation. Companies are getting better at combining non-sucrose materials to provide sweetness without a lingering aftertaste. They are also innovating with modulation technologies and unique ingredients to enhance current products and provide ingredients with new or enhanced formats, like liquid syrups or concentrates. The quest continues!
Example Companies: Monk Fruit Corp., Sweegen, Advanced Ingredients Inc., Cargill