Throughout my 40-plus years as an IFT member, I haven’t missed too many annual events. I honestly took for granted that IFT would enable me to meet up with my food science friends and colleagues every summer. Perhaps that’s why I am so excited for the return of our annual event and expo at McCormick Place in Chicago and online.
While you may think the event will be exactly the same as the ones you experienced three, five, or even 10 years ago, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The event’s new name, IFT FIRST, which stands for Food Improved by Research, Science, and Technology, is only the beginning of what’s new and different.
As Jay Gilbert, IFT’s director of scientific programs and career pathways, so eloquently stated in a guest editorial in Journal of Food Science, “It is time to usher in a new era of event experiences, one that taps into the collective knowledge, wisdom, and curiosity of presenters and attendees to truly advance the science of food and its application across the global food system.” This philosophy was at the heart of the planning for IFT FIRST.
Rather than an overwhelming agenda on disparate topics, the scientific program at IFT FIRST will be centered around an important question: “Hacking the Food Supply: Can We Synthesize a More Sustainable Future?” We’ll dig in Monday morning with an Oxford-style debate on the pros and cons of processed foods. Throughout the week, we’ll have a series of keynotes and peer-to-peer conversations that will give speakers and attendees an opportunity to debate, dissect, and discuss answers to 25 guiding questions around critical topics such as novel technologies and innovation, health and nutrition, food safety, consumer insights and education, and sustainability. With this combination of sound science and interactive discussions, the scientific program will be unlike any we’ve experienced before.
IFT FIRST will also mark the return of our beloved food expo. With more than 700 exhibitors, you won’t find a better place to taste, touch, smell, and discover so many novel ingredients, innovative solutions, and emerging trends under one roof. The expo floor is also home to a new area I’m really excited about—Destination IFT.
True to its name, Destination IFT is going to be a must-visit spot during IFT FIRST. Among the highlights for me is our Business FIRST stage, which will be the place to explore the latest business trends, innovations, and leadership topics and hear about some of the findings from the IFT Compensation & Benefits and Career Path surveys. Startup Pavilion is where we’ll have the chance to connect with entrepreneurs behind cutting-edge innovations that are sure to drive the future of food. We’re also introducing Braindate, a new way to build meaningful connections with in-person attendees or via teleconference with virtual participants.
We recognize that making the trip to Chicago may not be possible for everyone. For those unable to attend in person, we’ll have a robust online experience just for you that will feature more than 120 on-demand scientific sessions and poster presentations aligned with our in-person experience. We’ll also be bringing Chicago to you, with livestreams of our keynotes, featured sessions, Business FIRST stage, and more. And we have exclusive content and a few surprises planned just for our online participants.
I could go on and on, but there’s simply not enough room to tell you all the great things that will be happening at IFT FIRST, July 10–13. What I can do is encourage you to make plans to be there in whichever manner works best for you. I have always found the networking at IFT annual events to be unique and extremely important and that will most definitely hold true whether you experience the event in Chicago or online. This will truly be the must-attend science of food event of the year. I really hope to see you there!