This is a tale of shifts, chefs and friends. I have always found New Orleans a good place to be. Add in this year's annual IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) convention--with its industry insights and contact with old friends--and a truly good time was had by all.

Gathering those insights and tracking trends is enjoyable, but such activities serve serious business purposes, as well. Marketing and formulation strategies are based on consumer desires merged with the ingredient tools provided by suppliers.

With that in mind, detecting shifts in the ingredient supplier community hints at what this crucial segment of the food industry sees as of coming importance.

To Your Health (and Texture)

I could subtitle this section "more bang for the buck." The positions of some ingredients originally advanced for health benefits, and even emerging out of the dietary supplement industry, were shifted to tout their food additive benefits. For example, the immune-enhancing prebiotic arabinogalactan was promoted as a texture-enhancing hydrocolloid gum. The reverse also occurred, where an ingredient (such as the stabilizer gum arabic) was recommended for its health benefits as a dietary fiber.

This multiple positioning approach is not completely new. Natural colorants, nuts and flavorful herbs--among other ingredients--are promoted for both their traditional use as food ingredients, as well as for their antioxidant and other health properties.

Mary Mulry, president at the product development and organic industry consulting firm FoodWise, Hygiene, Colo., checks in with other comments. "There was a retrenchment by the largest exhibitors occupying smaller booths than years past and more chefs than I had ever seen. Culinary fusion concepts prevailed."

Mulry also notes increased emphasis on natural and organic ingredients but offers a critical comment. Some ingredients--for example, a vanillin she spotted--may have met all criteria for a "natural" designation, but a clouding agent that made the same claim had been sulfited during processing, which would disqualify it as an organic natural ingredient. In addition, some ingredients described as organic were not certified, and some were only organic-compatible, not certified organic. Such fine points will grow in importance as the organic market grows and the organic rule is enforced, beginning October 2002.

Safety First

"My impression in looking over the program was the growth in the number of food safety topics. It is a hot button," says Rick Stier, director of technical services for a U.S.-funded project to increase agriculture exports from Egypt. "I was pleased to see more equipment companies represented and more e-commerce exhibitors."

As for ingredients, there seems to be a push to show more applications for dried fruit, olives and other commodity ingredients. "Everyone had recipes for cooking with their products, some even developed by famous chefs," adds Stier. "There was definitely less emphasis on low- and no-fat."

While lowfat was downplayed, one of the primary ingredient categories used in such formulations struck Lynn Dornblaser, editorial director, GNPD (North America).

" all forms. That is what particularly stood out to me," says Dornblaser. "I was impressed by the uniqueness and variety of the products offered for tasting. In many ways, the grazing possibilities rival those found at the Fancy Food Show or at FMI. The number of tropical flavors also struck me, from mango slushy to jerk-flavored meats. That could not all be due to the New Orleans location."

Hopefully, such treats were enjoyed by most all attendees. Or, at least, my friends who helped with this editorial.