Ever since people began developing food and beverage products, taste has been fundamental to market entry. This remains true, but we are in the process of adopting  an additional baseline standard for product development: sustainability. Some may say we are already there. 

In early October, Prepared Foods held its 37th annual New Products Conference, where themes of sustainability underpinned many of the speaker presentations. New Products Conference sessions surrounding upcycled foods, food waste and plant based foods each contained overt and tangential messages about corporate responsibility and sustainable food production. 

Keynote speaker Eric Schnell, founder, BeyondBrands and co-founder, Good Catch, kicked off the event with a discussion of his company’s mission as a “conscious consulting agency.” In his work with brands developing and launching products, Schnell ensures that his partnerships operate along five principles: Passion, Purpose, People, Planet and Prosperity. An awareness of planetary impact is fundamental to the mission of BeyondBrands. This kind of organizational commitment to sustainable efforts is being embraced across the industry at companies of all sizes. 

Rachel Cheatham, Ph.D, founder & CEO, Foodscape Group LLC, moderated a panel that included leaders from companies working in the upcycled foods space. Philip Saneski, vice president-product for ReGrained, Chef Kang Kuan, culinary ninja, Tyson Food Innovation Lab, Caroline Cotto, chief operating officer, Renewal Mill and Rich Troyer, CEO, Comet Bio, each brought unique perspectives regarding the sustainable aspects of upcycled foods, as well associated concerns about food safety and marketing. 

Further confirming the foundational position of sustainability was the entrepreneurial community at FoodBytes! Chicago, a live pitch competition and business mentorship platform presented by Rabobank. The key trends that emerged at the event centered on plant-based and functional foods, climate-resistant crops, food waste and precision agriculture.

Tia Lupita Foods, Tiburon, Calif., won the Consumer Packaged Goods Award for its use of drought-resistant cactus; and LocalCoho, Chicago, won the Food and Agriculture Technology Award for sustainably producing fresh Coho salmon. Capro-X, Ithaca, N.Y., won the People’s Choice Award by upcycling dairy food waste. FoodBytes! Chicago attendees came away from the event with further reason to believe that sustainability is critical to current and future product launch success.

At Foodscape, an annual event held by market research consultant Datassential, attendees were met with presentations surrounding sustainable food trends and then some. A plant based foods vs. meat presentation made the case that either diet could assume a sustainable message. Both sides took aim at the environmental impact of producing plant based and meat based foods, establishing a gray area in the ongoing discussion of what future approaches the industry will take as it develops proteins for global consumption.

Sean Sherman, aka the Sioux Chef, spoke about the revitalization and awareness of indigenous food systems in a modern culinary context. At Foodscape, he spoke about his cultural heritage as a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, his ongoing efforts to preserve indigenous ways of cooking, and how to respectfully celebrate America’s diverse cultures without appropriating them. Sherman’s presentation drifted into the realm of sustainability as he discussed the diversity of regional crops and allowing food to “grow where it wants to grow.”

Foodscape presenters did not concentrate solely on sustainability, though, which should remind us that as we position our organizations to grow from sustainable standpoints, we must also preserve some energy and focus for modern market data and research. These sophisticated data sets along with cutting edge technology — biometric tools, facial expression recognition, predictive algorithmic data, personal nutrition based on DNA — can work to inform our decision-making process as we develop new approaches to business.