Despite a weak economy and even the threat of swine flu, the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo drew 14,500 people to Anaheim, Calif., June 6-10. The five-day meeting and three-day trade show featured its usual mix of educational programming, scientific sessions and mostly ingredient exhibitors
Usually, themes are apparent, but this year’s event was more diverse. However, suppliers of stevia-based sweeteners, some of which have not yet appeared in our coverage of that ingredient, dotted the show floor.
While overall attendance (including exhibitors’ booth personnel) was down a bit from last year’s New Orleans show, true attendee registrations were up 10 percent, according to the association. Next year the show will be back in IFT’s hometown Chicago, where it drew 23,296 in 2007, its second biggest crowd ever.
Four Innovation Awards were given this year to exhibiting companies:
- Ecolab Inc. for its peroxyacetic acid-based commercial sterilant, which sterilizes plastic bottles at lower temperatures than hydrogen peroxide, thereby reducing energy. It also mitigates bottle shrinkage and peroxide residuals.
- EnWave Corp. for its nutraREV dehydration technology, which uses radiant energy vacuum (REV) technology for low-temperature dehydration of fruits and vegetables (which we featured at: The Future of Food Processing: A New Way of Dehydrating).
- National Center for Food Safety & Technology for its Pressure Assisted Thermal Sterilization process, an FDA-accepted technology that combines mild heat with high pressure to produce commercially sterile low-acid food products (which we featured at: AIV Microbiology's Paul Hall Receives 2009 NCFST Award for Food Safety).
- National Starch Food Innovation for its Novation starches, native starches that can be used to manufacture products such as salad dressings with texture attributes and process tolerance that were only possible with modified food starches.
The recovery starts soon
There was cautious optimism in the annual meeting’s keynote address. “What’s Next? The Current Economy and the Future of Food,” featured economists Todd Buckholz, a former White House economic policy advisor and Harvard professor, and Jeffrey Alan Rosensweig, media commentator and professor with the Goizueta Business School of Emory University.
“Ninety percent of Americans will keep their jobs, and everything is on sale,” said Buchholz, adding “consumers are building up buying power.” His prediction is “the beginnings of an economic recovery” will emerge in the U.S. this fall.
Bucholz also predicted the money supply will rise and prices will go down. The cost of advertising, too, has dropped, he said, and advised attendees that “now is the time to take advantage of lower ad prices.” He pointed out that Kellogg Co., which opted to maintain a strong advertising program during the Great Depression, emerged in a stronger position as the economy recovered. He advised it is especially important to pick your business partners well and treat them well in trying economic times. He suggested the food industry “take advantage of changing global tastes.”
Rosensweig said the international markets that will show growth in the next year or two, in addition to the U.S, are India, China, Brazil, Russia, and Mexico. “I am optimistic about the future of the food industry, since the world population will grow at the rate of 75 million people a year for the next 25 years.”
Both economists warned against a protectionist stance, suggested embracing the global economy and cautioned that economic improvements will be incremental rather than dramatic. Rosensweig added that the U.S. deficit would climb even more dramatically next year because the U.S. stimulus package is “back-end loaded.”
In the Food Technology Trend Panel, all speakers agreed a new value equation is changing the way consumers shop for food and make their decisions to eat out.
A. Elizabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends Inc., pointed out the generation that is 50 years and older is the last one raised on European home-cooked meals. “Every time there’s been an economic downturn, it has dramatically changed consumers’ behavior,” Sloan observed. “This time, though, many of the behavior changes are not what was predicted.” She pointed out that foods for low-income consumers, up 17.8 percent, are an untapped market, whereas the market for affluent consumers fell 9.2 percent.
How is the recessionary climate affecting the way shoppers view healthful foods? According to Barbara Katz, president of HealthFocus International, a large number still consider eating healthfully a priority, although how they go about it is different for those whose incomes have been reduced and those who are holding their own financially.
“Taste is more of an expectation in all foods, and health in food has migrated into being the status quo,” she said. “Brand influencers (price, taste, nutrition) are about equal.” As for health concerns, consumers are interested in information and products that target vision problems, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, heart health, memory, and hold on to your hats, nutrigenomics.
Ron Paul, president of Technomic, an authority on foodservice and restaurants, pointed out the “value equation in restaurants is a fair return on services – price, quality, experience and portion size,” and that even though “frugality” is in for 90 percent of consumers, they “eat out three to fours times a month or more on average.” And he points out that the “mini mania” will continue with small plates and snacks and portion options.