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."
"It's pretty clear the industry is moving to incorporate more natural fibers within their formulas," noted Darren Schubert, vice president of Grain Millers Inc. (www.grainmillers.com), Eugene, Ore. "This is because the industry is beginning to realize more of the potential of food ingredients and their relation to long-term health. Today's R&D folks are focusing more on this and processing with more natural or organic, chemical-free ingredients."
Schubert also noted the rising interest in oat fiber and oat bran: "Not just because of its high content of insoluble fiber and beta glucans, but the other key health benefits." He says, explaining the lower cost ratio of our natural fibers to similar fiber ingredients in functionality along with the consumer familiarity and ready acceptance of oat products, allows developers many options when incorporating fibers.
Another fiber highlight of the show was sweetener giant Tate and Lyle's launch of its new Promitor resistant starch, a brand of soluble corn fiber. It's a prebiotic fiber that the company reports is well-tolerated, with excellent process and acid stability and dissolves clear in applications. According to the folks at Tate, Promitor is extremely easy to formulate with and can be used to replace traditional sweeteners for a nutritive cost of only 2kcal/g, thus reducing calories while maintaining the texture and body imparted from nutritive sweeteners.
ADM created a truly unique format to provide a platform for a number of its trendy fibers, and its other grain-derived oils, isolates and other ingredients. Of the dozens of foods and beverages presented at its humongous booth, I found the little cup of honey and cinnamon ready-to-eat cereal proved a picture worth a thousand words.
The tasty and crunchy "o"s included ADM's Fibersol-2 resistant maltodextrin starch, Clintose maltodextrin, Nu-Sun mid-oleic sunflower oil, Prof-Fam 825 soy protein isolate and Yelkin TS Lecithin, all in a base of pinto bean powder fortified with tapioca starch and sweetened with the company's Sweet `N' Neat honey powder. I've advocated the use of bean powders in such cereals for years and I have to tell you, it works on all levels -- health, texture and flavor most of all.
Oil and grain certainly were not all of this year's IFT trends. Nutraceuticals remain red hot with red fruits. Ocean Spray Ingredient Technologies, Middleboro, Mass., featured its BerryFusions line of fruit pieces designed with higher processing tolerance capacities to increase manufacturers' ability to include these high-antioxidant fruits in formulations. The company also presented its SDC sweetened dried cranberry line that is lower in sugar while higher in fiber.
Decas Botanical Synergies, Carver, Mass., which only recently released its high-antioxidant OmegaCran oil and NutriCran and PaCran antioxidant cranberry powders brought its BerryOrganics whole berry powders to the show. The fully organic line includes not just cranberry but blackberry, bilberry and raspberry as well.
By the way, keep an eye on all things bilberry -- more and more products using the blueberry-like fruit are appearing at these expos. "This type of berry is seeing increased interest because of its benefits to eye health, specifically age-related macular degeneration, and cardiovascular health," says Winston A. Boyd, Ph.D., "chief science guy" for Food Ingredient Solutions LLC (www.foodcolor.com), Teterboro, N.J.
"By the way," Boyd adds, "it's hoped such increased interest in this native berry will lead to growth opportunities for regional and even sustainable farmers here in the U.S. Berries like this tend to do a little better in the climates we have in locales like Maine and Northern Michigan and Minnesota, leading to local agricultural prospects for these crops which have a high market value."
Ingredients mean nothing without the food they go into, and Innova was on hand again to impress with its comprehensive gathering of just-out food items that ride the crest of the trends. The Netherlands-based group had some interesting trend predictions that included a prediction of increased inclusion of African flavors and ingredients. I think this might be truer for Europe, but there's no arguing with the success of South Africa's rooibos over here, so it's worth keeping a watch on.
Innova also noted the return to "comfort" flavors. Lu Ann Williams, Innova's senior analyst, noted a trend toward "nostalgic, retro and authentic" products and flavors with a "longing for more traditional and simpler items on the horizon."
(Wellness Foods magazine will report more extensively on Innova's findings in our December, 2007 All Trends issue.)
Geneva, Ill.-based FONA International reminded us that Asian flavors are still wildly popular too, with its Lychee-Pear flavored tea and Melon-Shiso chew. But the company also fell in line with Innova's predicted comfort crave, presenting both maple crème brulee and raspberry liqueur flavored chocolate confections, as well as a key lime pie soy crisp bar. Few companies understand the comfort trend better than Kraft Foods Inc., and the company's Kraft Ingredients division (Memphis), proved it with its samples featuring Natural Bacon, Natural Sautéed Garlic, Golden Toasted Butter, Fire Roasted and Organic Grill flavors.
Next year, IFT will head back to the Big Easy. It will be something of a show of solidarity for that 2005 host city, but the play is the thing, so expect an amazing show as we get the opportunity to see which trends featured this year and in previous years were able to take root in the processing of foods and beverages for better health and flavor.
There's another aspect of this year's IFT show that deserves mention: After more than 35 years with the institute, Neil Mermelstein, executive editor of IFT's Food Technology magazine is retiring at the end of the year, in spite of the fact that he still looks like a 40-something. Neil, you are a gentleman and a scholar and I wish you nothing less than the very best.