Visiting the IFT show is always a good experience, as catching up with old acquaintances, learning about the latest advances in food technology and gauging the pulse of the industry is best done in an environment with other food professionals. My meetings and encounters were all focused on the same theme: helping customers cut costs and work more efficiently.

A large distributor of food ingredients was very excited to tell me that, not only had they expanded their ingredient offerings, they also had grown their R&D department. The company feels this is necessary in order to help their customers, who are cutting back on R&D personnel at this time and looking to suppliers with R&D services to help fill the gap. “Companies who need ingredients also need R&D support, and we are looking to help in the areas of research, development, new product ideas and support...basically, anything a typical, in-house R&D department can offer,” explained a company representative. This conversation brought up another point: there are a lot of inexperienced R&D personnel in the industry, as companies find paying the higher salaries for seasoned, knowledgeable R&D personnel a daunting task. (A severe shortage of personnel and lack of students entering the R&D field have augmented the problem.)

The issue of cutting costs also was evident in the versatility of the ingredients suppliers were offering. “Ingredients that multi-task, that can serve more than one purpose, are really important to us right now,” said one supplier. One example seen many times throughout the show was fiber, which not only serves as a bulkener, but also can help with texture and moisture issues. A sweetener was touted as helping to replace fat and sugar, as well as control glycemic indices. There were natural and organic colors, flavorings and other ingredients that perform their functions, as well as help manufacturers obtain cleaner labels.

Cruising around the show floor also brought to light many other trends in the industry. For example, health and wellness continue to be prime concerns, and a magnitude of ingredients was on hand to be added and formulated into foods, beverages and supplements. Some examples are omega-3s and omega-6s, lutein, green tea extract, pomegranate juice, beta-carotone, artificial sweeteners, Superfruits, ribose and countless others, to be used in foods with specific functions, such as helping with colon and gut health, delaying aging and its effects, weight management, maintaining good energy levels and formulating foods that are natural or organic.

At the end of the day, however, all suppliers agreed that good-tasting foods and beverages are the items that sell, and all of the ingredients they choose to use are a means to that end.