3 Key Takeaways from IFT FIRST 2023

CHICAGO – Product developers and food scientists from over 70 countries learned about the latest in food ingredients and technologies recently at the IFT FIRST 2023: Annual Event and Conference.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) hosted IFT FIRST 2023, which stands for Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology, with this year’s event theme – “Innovation in a Time of Crisis: Can We Future-Proof the Food System?” Upcycling, regenerative agriculture, and the versatility of mushrooms were key themes among IFT FIRST 2023.

Upcycling Food
The Upcycled Food Association’s “Upcycled Certified” claim is a rapidly growing ESG-related claim. Sales of Upcycled Certified products grew by more than 21% between 2021 and 2022, according to SPINS.

Upcycled foods use the surplus ingredients or byproducts from the food manufacturing process that are typically thrown away to make new food and beverage products. The Kawa Project highlighted its Kawa Cocoa Extender as an upcycled alternative to cocoa powder. It “has a supply chain that is decoupled from the chocolate industry,” Aaron Feigelman, founder of The Kawa Project told The Food Institute. “We’re doing that by upcycling a byproduct from the industrial coffee brewing industry so we can make cocoa powder domestically using a byproduct that currently goes to waste.

“The benefit of this material is that it has no deforestation, no heavy metals associated with the supply chain, and it can be even more affordable.”

Also in Chicago, Renewal Mill introduced RenewALL 100% Upcycled Total Flour Replacement. The upcycled ingredients supplier combined its individual upcycled ingredients – food manufacturing byproducts okara (soy bean pulp), oat milk pulp, and corn fines – into a proprietary flour blend that can be used for all of the all-purpose flour (or all of a conventional alternative gluten-free flour blend) in a formulation.

Regenerative Agriculture
Panelists in the “Building the Business Case for Regenerative Agriculture” session advocated for increased adoption of regenerative agriculture to mitigate climate change, revitalize soil health, and ensure an adequate food supply.

Unilever is committed to having the Hellmann’s mayonnaise brand be 100% regenerative by 2027, said Herrish Patel, general manager, Unilever Nutrition North America. The company has partnered with PepsiCo and Practical Farmers of Iowa to support soybean and corn farmers in Iowa who have adopted cover cropping practices.

Ardent Mills highlighted its Regenerative Agriculture Program at its booth along with its new Ardent Mills Egg Replace and Ancient Grains Plus Baking Flour Blend products. In 2021, the flour-milling and ingredient company launched the regenerative agriculture program in partnership with Nutrien Ag Solutions and enrolled 37,480 acres across Idaho and Kansas. The company aims to enroll 750,000 acres in regenerative agriculture programs by 2025.

The versatility of mushrooms was visible on the show floor in Chicago, as companies showed mushrooms in a variety of applications ranging from steaks and burger blends to food preservative solutions, energy bars, and RTD teas.

unClassic Foods, a company that uses oyster mushrooms to create plant-based meat substitutes, was a runner-up in the IFT FIRST Pitch Competition. CEO Luiza Villela founded unClassic Foods after working on meat alternatives as a food scientist at Beyond Meat and SIMULATE (NUGGS). Villela said “unClassic makes oyster mushrooms with four times more protein than the average. We pre-cooked, pre-seasoned, and froze them.

“We reconfigured what’s inside of mushrooms in order to enhance their flavor and texture and improve their shelf life, because in order to compete with meat for our target audience, we need to be like meat enough that people want it but not too much that it feels fake. Because authenticity matters in food, especially for the early consumers.”

Virginia Lee is a food & beverages trendspotter and market research analyst. She has advised companies on innovation and market entry opportunities in consumer packaged goods at Euromonitor International, Innova Market Insights, and Brightfield Group. Connect with Virginia on Twitter and Instagram at @VirginiaALee.

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