Kicking off with a thought-provoking debate on the role of processed food in today’s diet patterns, IFT FIRST, the annual event organized by the Institute of Food of Technology (IFT), returned in-person for the first time since 2019.
With sessions on food science, innovations, insights, and an in-person food expo, IFT FIRST explored the role of food processing in sustainability. The wide selection of sessions with dynamic thought leaders from all aspects of the food community discussed the latest developments in the field. The expo gathered over 750 food and beverage industry suppliers, manufacturers, marketers and formulator, where attendees can learn, network and develop their businesses.
Here are some common themes we scoped out from the conference and expo.
Many companies tackled sustainability by “upcycling” ingredients that otherwise would have gone to a food waste destination. Upcycled foods are products that make use of these ingredients through auditable supply chains. These foods tap into both sustainable and functional food categories. Across the expo, we saw multiple suppliers of berry seed powder, coffee leave tea, brewer’s grain flour, pea hull fiber as well as unique upcycled products such as cacao fruit syrup. These unconventional upcycled ingredients shine bright due to their high nutritive value.
The seeds of cranberries and blueberries, for example, are byproducts in the drying processes. However, these seeds have superb nutrition profile and are very versatile. For example, 10 grams of cranberry seeds contain 5.5g dietary fiber and 1.4g fat. To take these upcycled ingredients to the next level, some suppliers trademarked the intact fiber and polyphenol compounds that they rescued from the processing of fruits and vegetables to be incorporated into products more easily.
As manufacturers and suppliers upcycle processing byproducts to reduce food waste, though, they also introduce novel processing methods and ingredients to food supply chains, underscoring the need for careful food safety measures.
‘Clean’ and Functional Foods
Brands want their ingredients to be simple and identifiable by the consumers – and the ingredient suppliers are on it. Soluble rice flour has emerged as an alternative to maltodextrin, lemon or prune extracts offer phosphate alternatives and plant-derived natural colorings are becoming the predominant coloring agents. Plant extracts are replacing chemical names on ingredient lists, too. Brands can choose to use guarana and yerba mate as a natural caffeine source instead of adding caffeine, or acerola cherry extract instead of vitamin C.
Additionally, companies are exploring natural ingredients that offer both food science and health attributes. For example, tapioca flour is a less-processed starch and a good candidate for flour in gluten-free baking. In addition, the resistant starch in tapioca is a type of dietary fiber, which lowers the net carbohydrate content and total calories of the final products, while yielding potential health benefits.
Brands with synergistic ingredient solutions that meet consumers’ demand for clean labels and functional foods and beverages will win the day.
New Plant-based Innovations
Plant-based foods remain a strong trend, driven by the increasing consumer concerns about sustainability, health and animal welfare.  At the IFT FIRST expo, various innovations emerged to simulate the appearance, texture, nutrition and flavor of meat.
Appearance & texture. Besides hamburger and ground meat, plant-based foods can resemble whole-cut beef, poultry, jerky or seafood. New protein fiber technologies help create the texture of muscle fiber in poultry or seafood.
Ingredients. More familiar plant protein sources like soy, pea and wheat protein are mainstays, alongside exciting emerging options like chickpea, quinoa, mushrooms and algae.
Nutrition. Precision yeast fermentation technology or cultivated algae yield a neutral tasting protein with a good nutrition profile,
Flavor. Natural savory meat flavoring and seasonings (think BBQ or Cajun) are added to maximize consumer appear, with only a handful offering seafood flavor profile.
As discussed at the conference, food processing is a complex issue, reflecting both challenges as well as exciting and innovative solutions to today’s public health concerns. It is an energizing time to be in the food industry, and we can’t wait to come back to Chicago July 16-19, 2023 for the next IFT FIRST!
Yuchen He, is a Padilla NEXTern in our Boston Office and a graduate student studying Nutrition Communication at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition. She is starting her dietetic internship this September at Yale New Haven Hospital. Having been a “lab rat” for years, she is passionate about communicating responsibly and accurately as a scientist in the food industry. This passion deepened as she had a taste of the exciting trends (and flavors!) in the food industry through an internship at a food incubator, the Hatchery Chicago, last summer. Long-term, she hopes to work in the precision nutrition field and help various stakeholders to better understand and develop the field. She hopes to learn from and help the FoodMinds team as much as possible this summer! In her free time, she loves exploring different ethnic foods, be that a novel veggie or a new bakery. She also climbs rocks (in the gym mostly) and lift heavy things. She hopes to keep eating and cooking new things and climbing the hardest way up a rock until she’s 101 years old.
 Maddison Gurrola, “Consumer Perception of Novel ingredients That Will Transform the Food System”. Presentation at the IFT FIRST conference, Chicago, IL, July 10-13, 2022.