Chris Downs headshot

Chris Downs

New ideas and perspectives are as essential to innovation as air and water are to the human body. It is rejuvenating to get away from the office or lab, connect with people who work in similar environments or fields, learn about new technologies and solutions, and allow yourself to consider possibilities without constraints.

Throughout my career, I have made it a priority to take advantage of opportunities to expand my skills, knowledge, and network at industry events, and none compare to IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo. IFT FIRST provides a unique integration of the best science, business, and innovation to drive advancements in the food system. As I prepare to attend the event July 16–19, I am looking forward to meeting people in person, building new relationships, and nurturing existing ones. I am also eager to engage with businesses and gain a better understanding of the latest market trends on the Food Expo floor, in the Startup Pavilion, and in sessions at the Business FIRST stage. And, of course, the opportunity to discover the latest science from students to professionals with international reputations is unparalleled.

IFT Student Association (IFTSA) President-Elect Luuvan Hoang shared that he is really looking forward to the IFTSA Closing Ceremonies at this year’s event. He explained that it is amazing to see the culmination of so many students’ hard work in the various competitions and their faces as they are presented with their prizes. He is also looking forward to the Monday evening Professional Networking Event, which is a great opportunity to meet fellow IFT and IFTSA members and others in a more casual setting. Because IFT FIRST is such a large event with so many different types of people, connecting in the context of IFT’s topic-based Divisions is a fantastic way to meet others with similar interests.

With the sheer volume and breadth of information and experiences available at IFT FIRST, how does one decide how to spend their time? Fortunately, IFT has thought of everything!

"IFT FIRST provides a unique integration of the best science, business, and innovation to drive advancements in the food system."

For creators looking for solutions to product development challenges, new concepts, scientific advancements, emerging research, and distinct experiences to inspire their next innovation, IFT FIRST offers multiple opportunities to fuel your creativity. At the top of the list is a walk through the IFT FIRST Food Expo, where more than 850 exhibitors will be showcasing the latest ingredients, equipment, intelligence, and technologies. For the newest of the new, the Startup Pavilion is a critical stop where attendees will find 100 food and food tech businesses in all stages of growth showcasing cutting-edge solutions and applications. And creativity will be on full display at the immersive Innovation Lab, where attendees will be challenged to create new food products based on real-world product development scenarios and consumer profiles while addressing some of the biggest challenges facing the global food supply.

For the influencers with buying power who are interested in supporting their company’s new business or product acquisition efforts, learning about competitors, and deepening their relationship with customers and vendors, the IFT FIRST Food Expo is a must, and the Exhibitor Locator is key to making the most strategic decisions about how to spend your time. The Morning Meetups in the McCormick Place North Concourse and Networking Hours in IFT Member Central present excellent opportunities to connect with fellow business leaders and industry professionals about trends and topics that may help you overcome your organization’s biggest challenges. And the Scientific and Technical Forums are the perfect place to cultivate your scientific acumen through your choice of 25 multidisciplinary conversations on a range of topics.

For academics and students eager to present their work and investigate the latest research and scientific trends, the Science FIRST program is for you. With three keynotes, five featured sessions, 20-plus Fireside Chats, and 25 Scientific and Technical Forums, you’ll have a chance to gain knowledge and insights on topics within your area of expertise and on the periphery. You will also want to explore the Research Showcase and Posters, where nearly 500 posters and 30-plus presentations featuring deep science will be on display, and participate in the myriad intentional networking opportunities to have deeper discussions and share your perspectives.

For science of food professionals in every role and career stage, there is no better place to explore the latest scientific research, build strategic connections, and advance the future of food than IFT FIRST. I look forward to seeing you in Chicago, July 16–19.

About the Author

Chris Downs, PhD, is IFT President, 2022–2023 ([email protected]).
Chris Downs headshot

In This Article

  1. Leadership
  2. Networking