What We Learned from 2022’s IFT Expo

Earlier this month members of our team attended the first in-person IFT expo in almost three years at McCormick Place in Chicago. So much has changed during that time, and we were curious about how everything would play out at this event and what kind of response there would be. 

IFT 2022 was promoted as a hybrid event with certain presentations and breakout sessions being offered virtually via live streaming. This allowed remote attendees to still connect with others and learn about trends and challenges facing today’s industry. While virtual events can be great for learning purposes, we heard from several companies that engagement was a big challenge for exhibitors these last couple of years during virtual-only shows.

We suspected that attendance and exhibitor numbers would be down post-pandemic. Travel restrictions prevented many international companies from exhibiting, which has always made up a large area of the event. Initial attendance reports were somewhere in the 14,000-16,000 range, with approximately 700 exhibitors. A quick glance of the event floor showed that attendance was clearly not what it was in years past, and we heard from several exhibitors that sales teams struggled to find customers going to the show. 

Developing Food Ingredients Trends at IFT

Several presentations we attended, including ones from Mintel and Innova, focused on developing trends, including the emergence of fiber as a sought-after ingredient by consumers. Fiber is one of those ingredients whose reputation stands the test of time. According to the 2020 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), fiber has the best reputation among healthy ingredients. With consumers focusing more on digestive health, its reemergence as a trending ingredient is no surprise.  

Innova showed how more innovative ingredients are being explored in the plant-based space—including mushrooms and asparagus—and that there has been a 50% average annual growth rate from 2017-2021 in food and beverage launches with a plant-based positioning. It was also predicted that plant-based pet food is anticipated to grow in the coming years.

Ongoing Supply Chain Issues

IFT’s Business First breakout sessions addressed the myriad challenges food and beverage manufacturers face today. During one of the sessions,  How Food Development is Responding to Inflation and Supply Chain Challenges, a lot of good discussions took place, including these thoughts:  

  • With all the supply challenges in today’s global economy, food companies will need to look more locally to ensure the necessary resources. 
  • If you’re not designing for commercialization challenges, you’re missing the boat (i.e., you’re just having fun in the lab). 

IFT Product Sampling and Organic Ingredients

Samples were still an important component of the expo, but safety was clearly a factor in how they were handled this year. We noticed that, overall, samples were given out in smaller portions, premade and many were individually wrapped.

It’s also important to note that organic ingredient exhibitors had their own area on the floor. This was a beneficial feature for customers who wanted to connect with several companies offering specialized ingredients. In fact, some of the most innovative samples we saw were in the organic space, such as microalgae-based dumplings. 

Final Thoughts on IFT

In an industry that’s continually being forced to adapt, we know the format and scope of IFT will also continue to evolve.

We look forward to seeing what the future holds for one of the food and beverage manufacturing industry’s key events as in-person events resume after a couple of years of virtual-only shows.