IFT FIRST Expo sign
IFT Staff

IFT Staff

Article Content

    The global food system faces multiple challenges, including climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, water scarcity, food waste, malnutrition, food price volatility, supply chain disruption, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The program at this year’s IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo, Sunday through Wednesday, July 16–19, at Chicago’s McCormick Place, aims to address these challenges by fostering innovation and collaboration across the science of food.

    This year’s entire scientific program is built around addressing challenges facing five focus areas:

    • Novel Technology and Innovation
    • Sustainability and Climate
    • Health and Nutrition
    • Food Safety
    • Consumer Insights and Education

    A Monday, July 17, keynote speech by Duncan Wardle, former head of innovation and creativity at Disney, titled “Embedding Innovation Into Everyone’s DNA,” will kick off the event with a discussion on how to build a culture of system-wide innovation, and make creativity tangible, easy, and enjoyable.

    First-day featured sessions include “Reimagining Food Waste to Put the ‘P’ in Profit & Loss,” which explores innovative ideas to capitalize on upcycled food waste and byproducts; “Food Tech Innovations That Are Changing How the World Eats,” which will discuss the potentially broad impact of innovations such as precision fermentation, biomanufacturing, and tailor-made stabilizing solutions; and “Science of Food Is Critical to Finding Urgent Health and Nutrition Solutions for a Growing Population,” which will emphasize the importance of food science in addressing global crises, from formulation and production to packaging and palatability.

    On Tuesday, July 18, the event will feature a keynote panel, “Seeding the Future: Innovation Across the Supply Chain for Healthy People and Planet.” This session will showcase three winners from the second annual Seeding The Future Global Food System Challenge, highlighting the work of creative entrepreneurs, innovators, and scientists working to transform the food system.

    Second-day featured sessions include “Expect the Unexpected: Failure to Anticipate Threats Is a Critical Food Safety Risk,” which focuses on the importance of anticipating potential threats and breaches in the food industry.

    Panel Speakers
    Panel Speakers

    The session “Consumer Panel: How Consumers’ Food Choices Are Impacted by Crisis” will examine the factors that influence consumer choices in a post-pandemic world, addressing the need for transparency and trust-building in the food industry.

    On Wednesday, July 19, the closing keynote, “David and Goliath: Considering How Organization Size Impacts Innovation,” will discuss the role of company size in innovation success. The session will provide insights from both large and small companies, exploring factors that influence their ability to innovate and bring new products or technologies to market quickly. (See an interview with the session moderator, Charlotte Allen, on page 39.)

    For a more detailed agenda and registration information, visit iftevent.org.

    Expo show floor booths
    Expo show floor booths

    Tackling Critical Questions

    How are we rethinking supply chains in the face of increased global tensions? What is the role of food science in public health and nutrition policy? What risks do chemical contaminants pose to human and planet health and how can risk-based analysis be used to protect and inform the public?

    Questions like these—25 in all—will be addressed in Scientific and Technical Forums at IFT FIRST. Each 75-minute session will bring together subject matter experts to engage in discussion and conversation with audience members. The goal for each forum session is “to create a diverse, interesting, and engaging conversation about that question,” says Jay Gilbert, IFT director of scientific programs and career pathways.

    The forums have been designed to be interactive and more engaging than a traditional symposium model, Gilbert emphasizes. “We’re trying to create a 360-degree environment of discussion and learning. It’s not just for the speakers participating on the panel to share their ideas. It’s meant for the attendees to share their thoughts, their ideas.”

    Each of the forums will be moderated by two IFT members. The forums will begin with a series of one-minute FIRST Cut videos in which the panelists highlight key points from prerecorded presentations. The prerecorded videos, each 10 or 20 minutes in length, will be available to FIRST attendees after the event concludes.

    The content featured in the Scientific and Technical Forums was curated by members of the IFT Annual Meeting Scientific Program Advisory Panel (AMSPAP), drawn from content proposals submitted for consideration by scientific experts from around the globe. In framing the sessions, panel members focused on bringing together content that would lend itself to creating a meaningful and interesting conversation.

    “The intentionality behind what was selected and why is exciting to see,” Gilbert reflects, adding that he was impressed by “the rigor and the scientific process that went into curating the conversations.”

    “The scientific program at FIRST 2023 reflects a journey that began in reflection from the dialogues at the annual meeting last year,” says Michelle Braun, director, stakeholder engagement for Benson Hill and chair of the AMSPAP Committee. “The content comes to life with input from members, advisors, and volunteers over the course of the year, through submitting guiding questions, session proposals, [and] recorded and live content.”

    Innovation Lab
    Innovation Lab

    Immersed in Innovation

    Organizers of IFT FIRST scientific programming have planned a special experience for Wednesday, July 19, the final day of the event—the return of the Innovation Lab, which will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the food expo floor. No advance sign-up is required, and the agenda for the immersive programming is flexible.

    Attendees may participate for the full event or any portion of it, progressing through a series of stations that have been designed to prompt creative thinking about product development. “It’s meant to spark different product ideas based on consumers, while bringing in our theme this year, ‘innovation in a time of crisis,’” says Gilbert.

    Innovation Lab activities will invite participants to consider food system challenges in five areas: health and nutrition; sustainability and climate; food safety; consumer trust and misinformation; and the fourth industrial revolution, which has a digital technology focus.

    “This will help challenge participants’ understanding of what crises we’re facing today,” Gilbert reflects. “Looking to the past, can we learn anything that will help shape the future?”

    On the Business FIRST Stage

    The Business FIRST stage returns to this year’s agenda, anchored by panel discussions presented by Food Technology on sustainability, communicating cutting-edge technologies, navigating supply chain issues, and optimizing new product development.

    “Building the Business Case for Regenerative Agriculture” will delve into the role regenerative agriculture plays in mitigating climate change, revitalizing soil health, and ensuring an abundant food supply. Experts from Unilever Nutrition North America and Planet FWD will discuss the opportunities and challenges in creating a regenerative ingredient supply chain and highlight the strides made by food manufacturers in adopting regenerative practices.

    “Marketing Disruptive Businesses to Investors and the Public” will examine the strategies employed by food system innovators from Brightseed, BlueNalu, CarobWay, and TurtleTree to effectively communicate their value propositions. The session will explore how these companies honed their messages, overcame initial resistance, and found their niches in the competitive marketplace.

    “How to Navigate a Supply Chain Failure” will address the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, and global events in managing supply chains. Representatives from Kellogg, George Washington Carver Food Research Institute, and South Carolina State University will share their experiences in overcoming supply chain failures and creating opportunities for success, touching upon high-tech logistics and DE&I initiatives.

    Lastly, “Adapting to New Realities of Food Product Development” will focus on the evolving landscape of product development in the food industry. Panelists from Herbalife Nutrition, Centauri Innovations, Mars, and Tillamook will discuss the skill sets required for a 21st-century product development team, highlighting the need for adaptability, collaboration, and the ability to navigate a constantly changing environment driven by data, novel technologies, and budget constraints.

    In addition to the topical panels from Food Technology, the Business FIRST stage will feature more than 10 sponsored presentations that highlight the products, services, and technologies exhibiting companies are offering to solve specific business challenges.

    Samples at the Expo
    Samples at the Expo

    Experience the Expo

    The IFT FIRST Food Expo is the place where attendees find inspiration and innovation at the intersection of science-meets-business. This year, more than 850 exhibitors will display the latest ingredients, equipment, and technologies. The trade show has a decidedly international flair, with nearly 35% of exhibitors hailing from outside the United States.

    Hotspots on the show floor include the Food Safety Pavilion, Organics Pavilion, and two Agriculture Pavilions, one presented by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the other by the state of Iowa. Market intelligence partners Innova Market Insights, Mintel, and SPINS will showcase the latest food trend information and research.

    The Startup Pavilion is another not-to-miss IFT FIRST Food Expo space. It’s the location of a multi-stage pitch competition taking place over the three days of the event. Approximately 100 startup companies—such as Equinom, Motif FoodWorks, Paragon Pure, and many others—will showcase their innovations in the pavilion. A panel of 25 judges will participate to help crown the winner of the IFT FIRST Startup Pavilion for 2023. The winner will receive $10,000 presented by Seeding The Future Foundation, and the top two runners-up will receive $2,500 each.

    Startup Pavilion
    Startup Pavilion

    The IFT Member Central Booth, where members gather for daily networking and section events and receive free headshots, will be housed within the Destination IFT area of the expo. Destination IFT is also home to the Business FIRST stage; the Taste of Science stage, where chefs will present 30-minute cooking demonstrations; the Fireside Chats area for informal but meaningful conversations about current trends; and the Recharge Lounge for taking a break while charging up devices.

    Research Highlights

    Science and innovation will be the focus in the poster area on the expo floor. This area will feature approximately 475 technical research posters by both students and professionals.

    Posters will be available all day Monday, July 17, and Tuesday, July 18, at IFT FIRST for attendees to browse in the main expo hall. There will also be two poster showcase sessions, one on Monday and another on Tuesday.

    During the showcases, presenters will be available to present their work and answer questions about it. New this year, all poster presenters will include a one-minute video summary of their research, which will be available in the post-event video library.

    Fireside Chat
    Fireside Chat

    Celebrating, Connecting

    Making new professional connections and reconnecting with longtime friends are always priorities for IFT FIRST attendees, and this year’s event offers a broad array of opportunities for that.

    On Sunday, July 16, the festivities will include the annual Achievement Awards Celebration followed by an opening reception from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in McCormick Place. It will be preceded by the Fellows Recognition Forum honoring this year’s class of IFT Fellows. (A ticket is required for the Fellows Recognition Forum.)

    For those who like to get their days off to a social—and productive—start, morning meetup gatherings held in the North Concourse of McCormick Place will be among the special features of IFT FIRST. Meetups are scheduled for event first timers, nutritionists and registered dietitians, interns, new managers, and artificial intelligence enthusiasts. Other meetup themes are sustainability and agriculture.

    And for networking fans who aren’t early birds, hour-long daily networking sessions—many sponsored by IFT’s Resource Groups—will take place near the IFT Member Central Booth. Networking hours will include conversation starters and other icebreakers to help participants make valuable connections.

    On Monday evening, July 17, a single ticket will provide entry to the IFT FIRST Professional Networking Event at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. It includes refreshments and access to 19 division socials.

    Fun Run
    Fun Run

    Don’t Forget the Fun Run

    Fans of fun and fitness won’t want to miss the Fun Run + Fitness Fundraiser in support of the Feeding Tomorrow Fund Scholarship Program at 6:30 a.m. Monday, July 17, at McCormick Place followed by an after party at 7:30 a.m. Runners, walkers, and yoga lovers can sign up to participate when registering for IFT FIRST.

    College Bowl
    College Bowl

    Specifically for Students

    For many, the IFT journey begins as a member of a student association chapter. The IFT Student Association (IFTSA) helps students meet other students and professionals in the science of food, apply for scholarships, and develop leadership skills.

    This year, IFTSA will host eight competitions, three of which are product development competitions. In those competitions, each team will draft a proposal and create prototypes of their product to present to a panel of judges. Also on the FIRST schedule is the College Bowl Competition, a friendly but fiercely contested event that tests students’ knowledge of food science and technology, the history of food processing, and IFT and food-related trivia.

    The student programming ends with the closing ceremony on Tuesday, July 18. During this ceremony, competition and awards finalists and winners will be recognized, as well as the winners of the Feeding Tomorrow Fun Run.

    Students can visit the IFTSA lounge throughout the event. This is a designated area for students to relax, recharge, and mingle with others.

    IFTSA will host a first-timer event on Sunday, July 16, to allow first-time attendees to learn the ins and outs of IFT FIRST. PepsiCo will also sponsor meet and greets in the student lounge.


    For more information on IFT FIRST, including a full schedule of events please visit iftevent.org