The final pitch competition judges of the IFTNEXT Food Disruption ChallengeTM bring a unique entrepreneurial perspective coupled with in-depth experience and understanding of the challenges and insights needed to bring a new and innovative product to market. These judges are present for the final pitch event where the IFTNEXT Future Food Disruptor of the YearTM is announced, along with a People’s Choice Award based on audience voting. The 2019 final pitch event will be held as a featured session at IFT19 in June in New Orleans.

If you are interested in volunteering to become a judge or learning more about the process, please contact us at fooddisruption@ift.org.

Meet the Judges of the 2018 IFTNEXT Food Disruption ChallengeTM

IFT is proud to introduce the IFTNEXT Food Disruption ChallengeTM competition judges from the inaugural competition in 2018. Each brought their unique perspective, professional experience, and intimate understanding of the challenges faced when bringing a novel and groundbreaking product to market.

Jennifer Bentz

JENNIFER BENTZ - SVP of R&D, Innovation, and Insights for Tyson Foods, Inc.
As SVP of R&D, Innovation, and Insights for Tyson Foods, Inc., Jennifer Bentz is responsible for leading product & process development, consumer insights & strategy and the Tyson innovation lab.  She is also tasked with driving the company’s innovation agenda from discovery through development, as well as identifying, developing, and championing growth strategies that are grounded in deep consumer insight. Jennifer was previously vice president of insights & innovation for The Hillshire Brands Company before the company merged with Tyson Foods in August 2014. 

Jeff Grogg

JEFF GROGG – Founder & Managing Director of JPG Resources
Jeff Grogg founded JPG Resources (JPGR) to build food and beverage companies and brands. Before launching JPG Resources in 2009, Jeff led product innovation at Kashi as the company grew from $25 million to $750 million in sales over 9 years. In addition, JPGR has helped hundreds of companies of all sizes launch successful new products on short timelines. These experiences have given him direct insight into rapidly moving functional food concepts from blue sky to market shelf, as well as into the creation of brands and products that capture the hearts of consumers, retailers and investors. Jeff has spoken at conferences in the U.S., Canada and Europe on topics such as The Future of Health Foods, Commercializing Innovation and Innovation in a Troubled Economy. He has founded or co-founded six companies and is a board member for four others.

J Skyler

J. SKYLER FERNANDES - Co-founder & Managing Director, Venture University, and previously Managing Director of Investments, Cleveland Avenue
J. Skyler (Sky) Fernandes is ranked as a Powerlist 100 VC and is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Venture University, an innovative investment fund model and an Investment Apprenticeship Program for angel investing, venture capital, private equity, and entrepreneurship. 

Previously Sky was the Managing Director of Investments at Cleveland Avenue (CA), a private equity and venture capital fund focused on food and beverage brands, food related technology, and new restaurant concepts.  Cleveland Avenue was co-founded by the former President and CEO of McDonald's and is an innovation platform that incubates, accelerates, and invests in the food industry through its three core pillars: a PE / VC fund, a consulting acceleration group, and an incubation lab for testing new concepts.  

Mr. Fernandes founded and was the Managing Director of Simon Venture Group (SVG), the venture capital arm of Simon Property Group, an S&P 100 company, and the largest retail real estate company in the world. SVG was ranked by CB Insights as a top 5 corporate venture group within retail alongside Google Ventures, Intel Capital, and Comcast Ventures and focuses on investing in retail technology, rising new brands, and internet of things for smart cities and buildings.

John Ruff

JOHN RUFF - Past President, Institute of Food Technologists (2012-2013) and former SVP of Global Quality, Scientific Affairs and Nutrition, for Kraft Foods
John Ruff retired in 2008 as senior vice president, Global Quality, Scientific Affairs and Nutrition, for Kraft Foods. Prior to joining Kraft, Mr. Ruff was a technical brand manager for Procter & Gamble in England. During his 36-year career with Kraft and the former General Foods, Mr. Ruff worked in six countries and gained experience in product and process development for beverages, coffee, confectionery, desserts, and meals. He has led major basic research programs in sugar and salt substitutes, food safety initiatives, and “greenfield” site startups. Mr. Ruff headed research and development groups for both Kraft International and North American businesses where he successfully integrated the technical operations of numerous acquisitions, established global centers of expertise and led a worldwide advisory council consisting of external experts who helped guide Kraft’s health and wellness initiatives. 

Nicole Schumacker

With experiences as a brand strategist and a leader in brand management, Schumacher has developed a 19-year track record of successfully growing entrepreneurial start-ups and Fortune 500 companies with a focus on food, health & fitness and experiential retail, including Escalade Sports, Pivotal 5, Kraft Foods, Boca Foods, Saks, Inc. and now PRE® BRANDS. Her specialties include marketing strategy development, value propositions and positioning, brand communications, new product launches and business model development.

Natalie Shmulik

NATALIE SHMULIK - CEO of The Hatchery, Chicago
Natalie Shmulik is the go to resource for everything food business related. Along with an M.L.A. in Gastronomy from Boston University, she has a wide range of experience working with supermarkets, consumer packaged goods companies and food service establishments including her own restaurant in Toronto, Canada. After successfully operating and selling her restaurant, Natalie was hired as a specialty consultant for one of Ontario’s largest supermarket chains, Longo’s. Here she introduced new programs to enhance consumer experiences through educational initiatives. Discovering her passion for innovation, Natalie decided to return to school to complete her Master’s Degree in Gastronomy at a program founded by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. Throughout her studies she also worked in cookbook publishing, marketing, and consulting for major foodservice establishments.

Natalie was hired on as a brand strategist for the first cold brew tea company, Evy Tea and later moved to Chicago, IL where she was hired to run a food business incubator and shared kitchen space in Evanston. Here she gained a keen understanding of both the food entrepreneur’s needs and the needs of incubation programs to ensure sustainability. Natalie was recently featured in Forbes and continues to play a valuable role in branding and marketing food businesses around the country, with her specialty in trend forecasting. She is now the CEO of The Hatchery- Chicago's premier food business incubator. 

Connect with Other Food Disruptors

Join the IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge'sTM Facebook group to stay-up-to-date with competition information, meet and share insights other entrepreneurs, and be informed about competition developments.


Be sure to reference our helpful FAQ webpage. Should you have any further questions about the competition, please direct them to fooddisruption@ift.org