Membership in the Institute of Food Technologists is an important component of professional life for more than 20,000 food science professionals throughout the world. Membership provides access to a diverse and dynamic network of colleagues and other benefits.

Nevertheless, IFT has experienced a modest decline in membership over the past 10 years. The key factors influencing this trend have not been easily identified, and their identification and reversal of the current decline will require continuous monitoring over the next few years and beyond.

One of the factors involved in this decline may be that the food industry has changed significantly over the past 30 years. Mergers and acquisitions have significantly decreased the number of employment opportunities for food science professionals within the traditional corporations associated with the food industry. During this same time period, supplier companies have assumed a more significant role in product development and quality assurance functions. In addition, small companies involved in development and marketing of innovative products, ingredients, and process technologies have emerged. The apparent outcome of these industry changes is a shift in the types and locations of employment opportunities for food science professionals and a change in IFT’s relationship with the food industry.

A key goal for IFT this year is "to stabilize the current IFT membership decline and create an appropriate environment for membership recruitment and retention, while enhancing membership satisfaction." Two important initiatives will contribute to the achievement of this goal.

The first initiative is a comprehensive membership research project to gain a better understanding of the factors influencing membership recruitment and retention. The 2006–07 IFT Operating Plan includes funding for a study that will assess membership value and satisfaction and identify areas where there is new member recruitment potential. This important study will provide us with the information needed to more clearly understand and evaluate the current decline in membership.

A key component of the study is a survey of current and potential IFT members that will provide the foundation for new membership recruitment and retention strategies and also ensure that IFT is providing value and the right products/services for the members. We look forward to the results of this important project and to the initiation of our new strategies.

The second initiative is to invite IFT members to participate in a coordinated effort to identify and recruit new members. This program asks leaders and members of IFT Divisions and Regional Sections to become "IFT Membership Ambassadors" and look carefully at their own circle of professional colleagues to identify potential IFT members. Within the past month, all Division and Regional Section leaders received a communication with an outline of their role in this effort.

The benefits of membership are accrued through involvement and participation in IFT activities. The most obvious activities include IFT’s Annual Meeting + Food Expo®,continuing education programs, publications, and Divisions and Regional Sections. Each of these activities will deliver a different benefit value for potential members. Overall, the member benefit associated with each activity is networking. The network of professional colleagues created by participation in any IFT activity should be a key incentive in recruitment and retention of IFT members.

In addition to the identification of colleagues, we are inviting Division and Regional Section members to identify small and medium-sized companies, focusing on those companies that are not among the traditional employers of food science professionals. It is unlikely that the owners and managers of these companies are acquainted with IFT or would encourage their employees to be involved in IFT. The identification of these companies will provide an important list for more in-depth recruitment efforts.

IFT’s Committee on Divisions and Committee on Sections, as well as IFT staff liaison Gail Wiseman will be involved in the coordination of these member recruitment efforts, and several other IFT committees will be also contributing to these ongoing efforts. For example, the Senior Food Officials Committee is developing strategies to acquaint the administrators of small and medium companies with IFT and its activities.

I encourage every member to help IFT become an even more valuable organization for current and future members. The message about the value of IFT membership is communicated best by enthusiastic IFT members.

by Dennis R. Heldman,
IFT President, 2006–07
President, Heldman Associates, Weston, Fla.
[email protected]