Chris Downs headshot

Chris Downs

Adapting to climate change. Leaner, cleaner, and greener. The escalating health imperative. Geopolitical shifts. Diving into digital. Increasingly autonomous. Unlocking the human dimension.

These are the seven global megatrends the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, identifies that will have a substantial and transformative impact on the world in the next 20 years in its seminal report—Our Future World.

At the time of the latest report’s release in 2022, CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall said these megatrends help us to understand the challenges and massive opportunities that will shape our future. “There is a tidal wave of disruption on the way, and it’s critical we take steps now to get ahead of it,” Dr. Marshall said. “We have the opportunity to use science to invent the kind of world we want to live in—but we have to act, and we have to do it together.”

Over the last decade, CSIRO has used its megatrends to provide data-driven insights across hundreds of research projects, advisory activities, training sessions, and presentations on topics ranging from the future of sport and tourism to agriculture, food, innovation, employment, and many more. As a 30-plus year veteran of the agri-food industry and current president of IFT’s Board of Directors, the applicability of these megatrends to the global food system was immediately apparent to me.

The impact of extreme weather events on our food supply, the increasing costs of healthy, nutritious foods, geopolitical shifts impacting the availability and movement of ingredients and goods, and the need for novel protein sources are just a few examples of how these megatrends present themselves within the context of the global food system. There are dozens more.

Academia, industry, and government are actively working to create the transformational change our food system needs but the challenges are great. Ground-breaking innovation has never been more critical, and it cannot occur in silos. This imperative is the foundation for the most impactful event the global science of food community is invited to participate in this year.

"There has never been a more urgent time to come together with researchers, academics, entrepreneurs, innovators, and change-makers to connect, learn, and innovate."

At IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo, July 16-19, 2023, we will explore innovation in a time of crisis. We will facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration as we work to solve the challenges before us. We will discern how ingenuity, creativity, and curiosity coupled with cutting-edge science can lead to transformative solutions. And we will seek to answer the monumental question—can we future-proof the food system?

A highlight of this year’s event will be an expanded Innovation Lab, which will provide a highly immersive, challenge-based opportunity for IFT FIRST attendees to think bigger and bolder as they attempt to answer that question and imagine the future of food and beverage amid the constant, urgent pressures they face.

Through a combination of featured panels and multi-session conversations, the scientific program at IFT FIRST will again be centered around 25 guiding questions within five key topic areas—novel technology and innovation, health and nutrition, food safety, consumer insights and education, and sustainability and climate.

While science is front and center at IFT FIRST, the business of food is an integral part of the innovation equation. Our Business FIRST stage will be returning with a series of multifaceted discussions about consumer insights, trends, careers, and more. And the IFT FIRST Startup Pavilion will be the epicenter of innovation, with a wide array of food and food-related entrepreneurs showcasing their novel products and technologies and vying for prize money in our multi-day, rapid-pitch competition.

There has never been a more urgent time to come together with researchers, academics, entrepreneurs, innovators, and change-makers to connect, learn, and innovate. Registration is now open for this exciting event. I look forward to forging new ideas and advancing the global food system with you this summer in Chicago.

About the Author

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