A healthy 23,296 attendees from more than 75 countries turned the McCormick Center in Chicago into a city of food scientists where trend-spotting became the order of the day ... or more than three days, as the case was.
This year, 986 exhibitors and 230 educational sessions kept things hopping at a fevered pitch. The only complaint is that there is simply too much to see even with all the time allotted -- but I can't really make any suggestions on how to fix that. It's indicative not of any lack of skills in organizing this annual extravaganza but in how huge, complicated and significant our field of food technology has become.
Starting with the keynote address by business guru (yeah, I'm tired of that term too, but what else can you call the guy?), Jason Jennings, author of "Think BIG, Act Small" as well as New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller, "It's Not The Big That Eat the Small It's The Fast That Eat the Slow," I was glad he opened with the same sentiments I was expressing: "What the heck is he doing here?" But I recalled thinking the same thing when Malcolm Gladwell stepped up to the podium in 2005. I was coincidentally in the middle of being enthralled by his landmark book, "Tipping Point," but was still unable to figure how he'd relate it to food tech.
I had no need to worry then and none this year: Jennings knocked it out of the park with an engaging, enlivening lesson in taking his methods of approaching business and applying them to problem solving readily translatable for the food processing industry.
Needless to say, with the whole China situation (see "Shalom, Y'all" and "China Syndrome") food safety was the 800-lb. Gorilla topic this year. "Food safety is of greater concern today than perhaps ever before, and suppliers play a critical role in keeping our food safe," said Mark Metivier, director of sales for ADM Specialty Food Ingredients. The ingredient behemoth sponsored a delegation of growers from Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota for a food industry overview about ADM's efforts to ensure food quality and safety.
From the floor show, exhibitors were on their best behavior, with most of them bringing something new. As has been the case, organic, natural and simple were the driving trends, but food safety -- always a major element of the show -- was perhaps a bigger issue this year compared to previous years.
The reason for this development can be summed up in a single word: China. The implosion of the Chinese food and ingredient industry over the last few months brought the safety issue right to the exhibit floor, with most vendors stressing how safe and pure their wares are as much as they discussed applicability and efficacy.
I'm impressed how, as a trend, omega 3s are still growing geometrically. In fact, I will now go on record as saying I now consider omega 3 as being beyond trend status. Prepare to see omega oils (DHA, EPA) included in thousands of products by 2010. (For example, Horizon Organic Dairies now adds DHA omega oil to its milk.) Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is still out front with its microencapsulated omega being picked up by a number or processors of juices, dairy, chocolate and even pizza.
Another oil worth mentioning is conjugated linolenic acid, biochemically a type of omega 3. Lipid Nutrition Inc., Channahon, Ill., was presented with a Frost and Sullivan Growth Strategy Leadership award for its Clarinol CLA. CLA has hovered around the edge of trendiness for a few years now, so this could be the beginning of a boost in popularity for this healthful oil.
Millers are even getting into the omega 3 act, with Pizzey's Milling, Angusville, Manitoba, introducing its MeadowPure O3, an organic, flax-based omega oil. The miller also took the unusual step of giving double bang for the omega buck by being the first to combine flax and fish oil omega in its MeadowPure O3 Ultra (see "New Ingredient Profiles,"). And Martek Biosciences Corp., Columbia, Md., is gaining ground with its "best of both worlds," highly bioavailable omega derived from seaweed.
Other trends in evidence from the grain side included the widening spectrum of fiber. Proof was in the fiber-added pudding as Wilmington, Del.-based Dow Chemical Co., presenting its Methocel fiber, also received an inaugural Food Expo Innovation Award from IFT for its Fortefiber soluble dietary fiber.
MGP Ingredients Inc., Atchison, Kan., not only kicked out all stops for an elegant meet and greet at the 95th floor of the John Hancock center but also is kicking out the stops on moving ahead with its development and marketing of resistant starches Fibersym RW and FiberRite RW. The products are touted as "a convenient and rich source of dietary fiber that can be incorporated with minimal processing adjustments (with) a clean flavor, smooth texture and white appearance."
Orafti Active Food Ingredients focused on the "wide range of industry-leading prebiotic applications" possible for its Beneo brand of prebiotic fiber. Beyond use in baked goods such as bread and cookies, Beneo was showcased in yogurt and fruit combinations, soymilk and even prebiotic water (H2Orafti).
National Starch Food Innovation (www.foodinnovation.com), Bridgewater, N.J., dug deeper into starch chemistry and focused on how health and texture enhancement can go hand-in-hand as desirable and functional aspects of resistant starch. The company announced at the show that it is opening in 2008 a multimillion dollar, state-of-the-art "Texture Center of Excellence" to support its expanding texture efforts. The center is designed to support National Starch's programs to meet the growing industry needs for texture understanding and control, while serving to "help accelerate innovation and new product development."