Business Bites: Chicago’s Future-of-Food Summit highlights diversity, innovation

On this week’s plate: Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Food is back, featuring an inclusive take on innovation; Almond Board of California partners with generative AI platform on student snack competition; five food companies receive funding for sustainable tech; and more.

7 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Food returns with a focus on innovations from underrepresented communities.
  • Almond Board of California launches Tastemaker Trials for college students to pitch almond-based snacks.
  • Seeding The Future Foundation and IFT award $1 million to five food companies for sustainable innovations.

Chicago is known as a global food innovation hub for a reason. According to the Chicago Business Bulletin, the Windy City’s food and beverage manufacturing scene generates $9.1 billion annually and employs more than 66,000 people. That’s why Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Food is returning in 2024 for a diverse look at advancements in food tech. Also in this week’s column, Almond Board of California partners with generative AI platform Tastewise on student Tastemaker Trials and Seeding the Future Foundation joins forces with IFT to reward innovation. Read more below.

Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Food focuses on diversity, technology

Mayor Brandon Johnson and World Business Chicago announced the return of the Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Food. Taking place May 23, the event will assemble innovators and leaders from across food and beverage for a tech- and diversity-driven look into the future of Chicago’s food sector.

“On behalf of the residents of our great city and its vibrant business community, I look forward to the 2024 convening of the Chicago Venture Summit, Future of Food,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a press release. “Chicago stands as a trailblazing force in food innovation, and we invite startups, investors and companies from across the globe to join us at the Chicago Venture Summit to witness the remarkable advancements taking place in food production and innovation. Here, too, you’ll see our unwavering commitment to Chicago leading the charge in cultivating and sustaining an inclusive environment for entrepreneurship and ensuring equitable access to venture capital opportunities, especially for startups founded by women and people of color.”

In 2023, the summit drew more than 2,000 attendees to two events: Future-of-Food and Future-of-Climate Tech. The summit also featured a startup portfolio of more than 160 founders, 60% of whom were from underrepresented communities. Registration is invite-only and will open soon.

ABC launches Tastemaker Trials for US college students

Almonds are at the forefront of product innovation. In collaboration with Drexel University and Tastewise’s generative AI platform, Almond Board of California (ABC) launched its national Tastemaker Trials competition for U.S. college and university students. Participants must create an appetizing almond-based snack with the theme of “intentional indulgence.” Last year’s first-ever student competition served as a proving ground, and the winners were almond cookie dough snack bites and almond butter sandwich crackers.

“We are excited to host the Tastemaker Trials and to see all the great ideas students have across the country,” Charice Grace, trade marketing and stewardship manager for ABC, said in the announcement. “We hope to be a great resource for young people as they enter the sphere of culinary innovation and incorporate almonds in new ways. I can’t wait to see what’s in store to shake up and add more value to the way we’ve been snacking!”

Preliminary written submissions are due Feb. 23. Up to five finalist teams will develop sample prototypes and pitch their snacks in May. The first place winner will receive a trip to IFT FIRST, held July 14-17, where they will be recognized, along with virtual mentorship opportunities. For updates, follow ABC’s Nuts about Almond Inspiration LinkedIn page or email [email protected].

Seeding The Future Foundation, IFT announce winners of third annual Seeding The Future Global Food System Challenge

Five industry companies that created sustainable food system innovations primed to improve peoples’ lives globally recently received recognition. Seeding The Future Foundation and Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) announced the winners of the Seeding The Future Global Food System Challenge, which awards $1 million annually for sustainable innovations that can transform food systems to be more equitable and lead to safe, nutritious and trusted food. The winners, with improvements being implemented throughout African and Asian countries, were selected out of more than 900 submissions from 78 countries. Two grand prize winners — International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Naandi Foundation — each received $250,000 and three Growth Grant winners — Association 3535, Kopernik and Nurture Posterity International — each received $100,000. Grand prizes are awarded to organizations with scalable innovations that are economically feasible at scale, trusted, compelling, and have “major impact potential to improve the lives and health of people and the environment,” according to Seeding The Future Foundation and IFT. Growth Grants are given to organizations with similar attributes — the only difference is that these attainable innovations have “high-impact potential.”

New study shows saffron reduces stress

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is known and loved for elevating foods and beverages, but a new study shows it offers more than just taste. The in vitro study, spearheaded by Chae-Young Kim, Ph.D., found a saffron extract developed by Pharmactive Biotech Products, Affron, may help reduce stress. Using Wistar rats, researchers focused on Affron’s role in regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the main stress response system in humans and animals that triggers a fight-or-flight response. Following repeated oral administration in 40 rats over a four-week time period, results demonstrated significant improvements in stress. The rats showed decreases in the presence of two brain hormones, arginine vasopressin (AVP) and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRP), within the hypothalamus. AVP and CRP play a pivotal role in triggering the release of other stress-related hormones.

“Chronic or excessive activation of the HPA axis and prolonged elevation of these hormones can contribute to the maladaptative response called allostatic overload — a state of cumulative strain wherein the body and mind get overwhelmed by constant anxiety or challenges, but don’t have the time to recover,” Inés Morán, Ph.D., scientific studies manager at Pharmactive Biotech Products, explained. “Beyond the mental overload, it can contribute to various health problems, such as metabolic diseases, and accelerate long-term wear and tear on the body’s systems.”

Researchers also found the saffron extract allowed the rats to maintain high levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hypothalamus tissues, a protein that promotes brain plasticity, which is essential for learning and memory.

“This outcome is significant because extreme cases of anxiety or depression can produce symptoms of anhedonia, which is a lack of interest and motivation for anything, including food,” Morán said.

IFF partners with Unilever, Wageningen University & Research to advance plant-based meat alternatives

Plant-based options are constantly evolving. International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), a manufacturer of food, beverage, home and personal care, cosmetic and health ingredients, recently embarked on a collaborative research initiative with Unilever, a global consumer goods company, and Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in protein-flavor interactions to address flavor challenges in plant-based meat alternatives. Plant proteins can often create off-notes and a bitter taste in alt-meat products, which manufacturers often mask using a combination of flavors. To address this challenge, IFF and Unilever are spearheading a comprehensive, four-year research project, working alongside scientists from WUR in the Netherlands. The focus of the project is to explore ways flavors can bind to protein molecules to create favorable flavor profiles in plant-based meat products.

“Technology is a key enabler for us to create plant-based products that have the same great taste and texture as animal meat, but have a lower environmental footprint,” Manfred Aben, nutrition and ice cream head of science and technology at Unilever, said. “This research partnership will enable us to understand and control how flavors work to create superior plant-based products.”

Yeast-based solutions may neutralize off-flavors in plant-based proteins

According to Protein Industries Canada’s Five-Year Strategy, the worldwide market for plant-based foods and beverages is expected to grow to $250 billion by 2035. An ongoing challenge for manufacturers, however, is the tendency for these products to develop off flavors or odors. Renaissance BioScience Corp., a global leader in bioengineering yeast, was recently awarded roughly $172,000 from the Canadian Food Innovation Network (CFIN) to continue its work on a yeast-based solution. Said funds will contribute to the company’s development of clean label, non-GMO fermentation techniques that transform and neutralize compounds that lead to undesirable flavors and aromas, such as hydrogen sulfide in beer. The Canada Trade Commissioner Service also included Renaissance BioScience in its 2024 Food Technologies Canadian Technology Accelerator program, which connects Canadian corporations with global export, investment and partnership opportunities.

About the Author(s)

Heather Carter

Associate editor, Food & Beverage Insider

With over a decade of diverse professional experience under her belt, Heather has journeyed from the bustling world of local news reporting to the intricate realms of trade publishing. She has covered a wide array of topics, ranging from architecture and design to the food and beverage industry.

During her illustrious career, Heather also ventured into the realm of public relations, where she gleaned invaluable insights into the art of strategic communication and brand storytelling. Yet, her heart has always been anchored in the vibrant world of F&B, a passion deeply ingrained in her roots as the daughter of a seasoned chef. She has always held a profound appreciation for the role food plays in shaping cultures and connecting people.

With each story she tells, Heather seeks to illuminate the profound impact of food and beverage on people’s lives, celebrating its ability to evoke emotions, foster connections and weave the fabric of our shared human experience.

As Food & Beverage Insider's associate editor, she co-publishes a weekly news column, Business Bites, which showcases the latest industry news, highlighting key business updates, food and beverage innovation, industry events and more. Some of her other articles touch on important topics, such as ultra-processed foods, plant-based foods primed to change the food landscape, international flavors and ingredients, as well as better-for-you CPGs. She also frequently covers top trends at various industry events and has moderated first-of-their-kind education sessions at Informa events.

She can be reached at [email protected].

Scott Miller

Staff writer, Food & Beverage Insider

Scott Miller brings two decades of experience as a writer, editor, and communications specialist to Food & Beverage Insider. He’s done a little of everything, from walking a beat as a freelance journalist to taking the Big Red Pen to massive technical volumes. He even ran a professional brewing industry website for several years, leveling up content delivery during an era when everyone had a blog.

Since starting at Food & Beverage Insider, he’s written pieces on the price of greenwashing (and how to avoid it), debunked studies that served little to no purpose (other than upsetting the public) and explained the benefits of caffeine alternatives, along with various other stories on trends and events.

Scott is particularly interested in how science, technology and industry are converging to answer tomorrow’s big questions about food insecurity, climate change and more.

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