COVID-19, plant-based nutrition, sustainability, CBD/Hemp trending at IFT20 – podcast

Trends on display at the 2020 IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo, held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as discussed by Food & Beverage Insider editors Judie Bizzozero, editor in chief, and Alex Smolokoff, assistant editor.

Judie Bizzozero, Content Director

July 30, 2020

Billed as SHIFT20 by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), the 2020 IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo showcased the latest market trends and ingredients for food and beverage product development—all on a virtual platform. Attendees were able to drop in on hundreds of scientific sessions and visit booths to see new products from ingredient suppliers that will lead to new product innovation in the near future. In this podcast, Food & Beverage Insider editors Judie Bizzozero, editor in chief, and Alex Smolokoff, assistant editor, discuss big picture topics including:

  • Pros and cons of the virtual trade show

  • Insights into COVID-19’s effect on the food and beverage industry and product innovation

  • Sustainability and supply chain transparency

  • The continued rise of plan-based nutrition and protein options

  • Clean label and its move from spotlight to norm

  • Sweetener systems for sugar reduction and functionality

  • Advancements in natural colors and flavor

  • Traction in the area of CBD and hemp ingredients and their growth potential in the food and beverage space, and more.

Got feedback? Email Judie at [email protected], or tweet to @FoodBevINSIDER.

Podcast Transcript

Judie Bizzozero: Hi, I'm Judie and welcome to another edition of the Food & Beverage Insider podcast. I'm here with FBI's assistant editor Alex Smolokoff to talk about trends we noticed at this years’ IFT food Expo, which was certainly a different experience due to COVID-19. This year's format was all digital, and it certainly was a new way to navigate the trade show from the comfort of our own home office. There is certainly a lot of trendspotting, so we're going to discuss our big picture trends that are driving innovation in product development. Obviously, we could not visit every booth, so Alex and I have put together our big picture trends.

So, the first one obviously is COVID, the COVID effect. It is no longer the elephant in the room, and it certainly impacted how exhibitors and attendees interacted. It was such a different feeling for me because I've been to so many IFT Expos. Not having an in-person event meant there was no show floor, no booths, no one-on-one interaction, no colleagues, no after parties. Companies that chose to participate in the show were represented via virtual booths that included product catalogs, webinars, digital meeting times and virtual demonstrations. But I really missed the ability to see, touch, feel and taste these prototypes that featured new ingredients. And I missed the ability to compare the various flavor components and textures and mouthfeels, so I'm not sure how suppliers are going to be able to deliver those opportunities to potential customers. I do have to say that some had video demos and recipe cards, and that's definitely a good start. So, Alex, what were your thoughts on COVID?

Alex Smolokoff: You and I clearly had different experiences because I have never been to an in-person IFT event, so this was all new to me. To be able to see how it was done, how it was undertaken with COVID looming over everything was interesting to me. I haven't had a chance to do one of these completely virtual events, but I really did think that they did a pretty good job overall of getting the product in front of you, getting the keynotes in front of you, getting the presentations. Everything was available and everything was open to see, which was really encouraging given that we weren't able to be there in person.

But one thing that I found super interesting as far as COVID was concerned, was a keynote from April Rinne, who is a member of the World Economic Forum, who rather than focusing on COVID and what its exact impacts are and how it specifically is having an impact on the industry, she really chose to focus more on what it's bringing to light as far as problems that really already existed in the industry. I actually wrote down a quote that she had that I thought was just really, really interesting which was, “The pandemic has brought our food system’s fragility and interdependence into clear view.”

And so, I just thought it was really intriguing how she brought up, not, you know what is COVID doing to the industry, but what is already happening in the industry and how is COVID bringing that to light and what can we do about it now. She really summed it up very well at the end when she said, “It is, in short, one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our lifetime that all of us can lead.” And so I just thought it was very interesting how COVID was used really almost as a microscope to other issues that were going on in the industry.

Bizzozero: Yeah, definitely. Those are definitely great quotes and something to think about. And I really think that it's a great transition into one of the topics that we were discussing, which is sustainability, and we definitely have to have sustainability of ingredients and sustainability of our planet, and it's top of mind for not only consumers, but ingredient suppliers and CPGs. So, what did you see on the sustainability spectrum?

Smolokoff: What I found most interesting as far as the sustainability discussion, was that, it's a very, very complex issue, obviously, but it was really driven home how complex that is during some of these keynotes that discussed a man- pronged approach to dealing with sustainability. That can be in anything from the materials we use to package our food to the way that we grow that food itself.

Education around the idea of sustainability, legislation I thought was an interesting thing that came up. You don't really hear about how the laws in our country and around the world, and the way that legislation is set up, really has an impact on what companies are able to do, what maybe they’re sort of forced to do, or given a nudge in the right direction through different legislation. So, I just thought it was a very interesting idea that there is no single answer. There is no single focus to get to a more sustainable food service industry, food and beverage industry. It really comes down to many, many little things all coming together and I thought that was just a really interesting way of looking at it because I feel like that sustainability discussion often centers specifically on how we grow our food or how we package our food, but never really how all of those things are interconnected and how each one needs to be addressed in order to make any progress.

Bizzozero: Absolutely. There was a session called “Stop Wasting Waste: Upcycling our Future” and that tackled the topic of stopping food loss and waste. Many suppliers and CPGs are already taking this to heart and it’s something that we’ll be examining more in-depth throughout the year. But I really thought it was a great session. You know, we’ve seen a number of companies using ugly fruit that would normally get thrown away. But, as you mentioned, it’s baby steps and everything does interconnect so it’s how these companies are finding the balance to make strides in this area.

Another thing, there were so many companies that were touting their sustainability efforts this year, more so than ever. I’d like to call out the U.S. Dairy Export Council, they unveiled their new U.S. Dairy industry sustainability goals for 2050, and they were also offering insights into new product trends and why food and beverage manufacturers are leaning on functionality and versatility of U.S. dairy proteins. Tate & Lyle also laid out new environmental targets for 2030, which are set to deliver 30% absolute reduction in scope one and two CO2 emissions. And really what I found interesting was an even bigger goal was to use 100% of its waste in a beneficial manner. That again goes back to upcycling and using waste to maybe produce different types of products that we haven’t thought of before.

Piggybacking on that, there was a session called “The Future of Food Safety.” As you mentioned, these all interconnect, so Frank Yiannas, he is the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, he was a keynote speaker and he talked about the cross-section of data and science in emerging technologies, such as blockchain and AI, and how they’re shaping the future of food safety and the benefits they can deliver across the entire foods supply chain. And it was really timely considering that just the day before, FDA released its new blueprint for food safety measures. Frank kind of gave a really good example of talking about, you know, just even a few years ago you might have a recall and it might take 26 days to find out where an ingredient was sourced, and now with AI and blockchain you might be able to scan the product or the product sheet and find out in six seconds where that ingredient was sourced. So, that’s a huge leap. People had envisioned this maybe five years into the future, but it’s happening now and it’s just taking small steps, thoughtful steps to get there. So, I think we’re going to see a lot of innovation in this area and advancement in technology. Which kind of leads into our next topic of clean label. We’ve been talking about clean label for years and elements such as organic and non-GMO, they’ve been part of the market vernacular for decades, but we’ve really seen more ingredient launches with these attributes. I know this was an area that you were really hot and heavy on on the virtual tradeshow floor, so I’d really like to hear your insights into that.

Smolokoff: Yeah, so when it comes to clean label the first thing that really blew me away was just the sheer volume of product launches. Again, the virtual trade floor had a very handy and nifty search, and a browsing feature to see all of the different products. By my count, there were over 100 organic ingredient exhibitors, and about 130 non-GMO exhibitors. So, that just really goes to show you the breadth of this clean label movement and how many new products we’re seeing.

A couple of these products really did just blow me away with how interesting they were, and how different they were from some things that I’ve seen in the past. Dakota Specialty Milling had a clean label cake base, a boxed cake mix that just requires you add milk, eggs and water, but it had only natural colors, unbleached flour, no artificial emulsifiers, and it really took something easy, convenient, something that you might not typically think of as super healthy as a boxed cake mix, and gave a healthier option and a healthier version of that.

We saw the same thing with natural colors. Chr. Hansen had FruitMax, which was 100% plant-based red food coloring, which was very interesting. The color that they went for was actually based on the Hansen sweet potato, which was a variety that they themselves created and won an award at last year’s IFT. So, natural colors as an ingredient into some of these packaged goods and pre-packaged, bakery mixes and things like that, was very interesting and just a way to get healthier and cleaner label ingredients into something that you might not necessarily think of as a super clean item.

We also saw Levapan America had a non-GMO yeast which I thought was super interesting. I didn’t even know there were GMO yeasts available. I did some research afterwards and it turns out there are, and so I would never even think to look for a non-GMO version if I was in the grocery store, but knowing one exists is really interesting especially during today’s day and age because maybe three months ago, I would never even think to look for yeast in a supermarket. But now, I’m one of the millions of people out there trying to do more baking and cooking, and so these are ingredients that I’m looking for the first time and so someone like me, who might not know what types of products are out there, or what I would need to do more of this at-home cooking, at-home baking that’s really taken over during this quarantine period and during this COVID period, there’s healthier ways to do it and there’s healthier ingredients even if you want to bake bread or bake a cake, which again aren’t always the healthiest items out there.

And then, Ingredion also launched three new organic native starches in the U.S. and Canada under its PURITY line. This idea of clean label really going bottom up, every ingredient within a greater, bigger product being a clean label ingredient and just giving people the peace of mind that the food they’re making at home, or the food that they are purchasing and eating is as healthy and as clean as it can be when we know there are some maybe less healthy or less clean versions out there that we can now avoid.

Bizzozero: Right, and I really think that we did see a lot of non-GMO action. I believe you told me when we were prepping for this that you saw about 130 non-GMO exhibitors listed which is up significantly. And that also means that the companies are making an investment to become non-GMO certified, so that again says something toward their due diligence in terms of ingredients.

So, let’s turn our attention to the continued rise of plant-based eating. It’s certainly timely that on July 15, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released its nearly-850-page scientific report of recommendations that serve as the benchmark for the upcoming Dietary Guidelines for Americans slated to be finalized by the end of December. These guidelines are released every five years, and they encourage Americans to really focus on eating a healthful diet, one that promotes health and prevents chronic disease.

The committee concluded that dietary patterns rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, low- and nonfat dairy and seafood, as well as foods that are lower in red and processed meats, are better for overall health. So, we're going to be seeing a lot of interest in alternative dairy and alternative meats in that section. Again, global companies really highlighted this through webinars and session panels and white papers. Cargill had a webinar titled “Delivering on the Growing Appeal of Dairy Alternatives” that took a deep dive into that category. ADM released a new white paper on plant-based nutrition, and Ardent Mills, I was able to sit in on their webinar about the benefits and future of ancient grains, specifically quinoa. This all bodes well for plant-based food and beverage products. So, Alex. What were your thoughts on plant-based?

Smolokoff: Yeah, so when it comes to plant-based this was one of the main areas that I think April Rinne's webinar really drove home for me, which was these existing issues being highlighted by COVID. And we've seen that with meat and to a somewhat lesser extent dairy processing, especially during the beginning of the pandemic. We had meat processing plants closing. We had milk that had nowhere to go because stores and restaurants were closed. And so, I think that really shined a light on the plant-based movement, so to speak. Even though, like you said, it’s been around and was certainly a growing trend even before everything that's happened over the last six months. But I think that that really drove home that focus on plant-based, and again looking through the virtual trade floor, there were over 50 plant-based protein exhibitors, and some of them were, again, just really interesting and innovative products that I didn't know existed and consider myself better off now knowing they do so.

Ingredion had a chickpea broth which was a plant-based aquafaba with emulsification properties, so this would replace eggs in things like salad dressings or vegan mayonnaise. Things that you don't really think of. With a vegan lifestyle you have to avoid eggs and it's really difficult to do that. You need eggs to emulsify products and give you that mouthfeel that you're looking for out of familiar things like dressings and mayonnaise and condiments. So, this is a way to achieve that without having to use animal products.

I also think what’s interesting is that a lot of times when we think of plant-based, we think of it specifically as a substitute for meat. There were plenty of products that were not necessarily substituting for meat, but that were still offering a healthier alternative to a familiar product. One of those was AGT Foods VeggiCrumb, which was sort of like a breadcrumb mixture, but it was made entirely from dried peas. That could be really great product whether you are trying to avoid bread and grains or even if you're just trying to make something that's a little bit healthier than the version you were going to make with actual breadcrumbs. I wish I could have tried it. I’ve tried one keto-friendly breadcrumb mix that was also wheat-free in the past and it was delicious, and it had great mouthfeel and delivered on that crunch that you would expect, so I'd be really interested in trying out this dried pea version as well. So, just really interesting and innovative products that solve problems, that replace ingredients that either people are avoiding for health reasons, for sustainability reasons, for personal feelings toward the meat or dairy industry. And it just seems that nowadays, for whatever issue or reason you have, there's a solution which I just thought was really interesting, and something that I expect to continue because of the COVID situation, and just because it was a trend that we were seeing even in the years leading up to this.

Bizzozero: That's an area I totally agree with everything you said. That's really where I missed the ability to taste the prototypes, to actually see how they used flavor systems to mask the earthy notes that plant proteins can provide. One introduction that really stuck out with me was Ardent Mills net carb application mix. It's a mix which you had mentioned earlier, but it's a non-GMO, dairy free, vegan, no added sugar mix and it was developed for manufacturers wanting to make low net or zero net carb products, which of course we're seeing in low-carb keto and all that, so it's great for breads and tortillas and buns. I thought that was really innovative and really answering to what consumers are demanding right now.

Axiom Foods, they debuted two pea protein ingredients, their Vegotein Neutral Pea Protein and their Vegotein TX Pea Protein. Those offer 100% digestibility and really are great solutions for lower costs, processed meat and meatless ingredient lists. A few other ones were Scouler. They debuted a textured plant protein and they really did that for manufacturers looking to develop new meat and meat alternatives and that kind of goes back to what you were saying, it might not necessarily always be alternative meat, that we're seeing kind of a mixture sometimes and kind of a fusion of meat and meat analogs. So, you're looking for ingredients that have neutral flavor that are non-GMO and organic and gluten free to kind of fill that void.

Some other plant launches that I found notable were Briess Malt & Ingredients. They launched an Organic InnoSweet Sprouted Whole Wheat Powder. MGP Ingredients had a ProTerra Textured Plant-based Proteins. Almond protein is huge, and Mitsubishi was debuting that along with Blue Diamond. PLT Health Solutions also launched its Artesa chickpea flour and we know chickpea is huge. So, those are just a few; I could keep going. Milk Specialties had a brown rice protein and Coscura, they continued their pea protein launches. But one that I found really interesting was Hormel Ingredients, and they launched quite a few products in the plant-based section. They had an Italian-style full cooked crumble. They had ground and uncooked meat alternatives. They had an all-natural beef and mushroom sausage, so they’re really diving into this alternative meat sector and normally you would think of Hormel as a meat company. So, those are just a few of the plant alternatives that kind of stuck out to me.

So, let’s dive into our next one: sugar reduction. We've been talking about that for a long time. It continues to take center stage, especially now that the new Nutrition Facts label has come into effect. It has a lot of brands looking to alternative sweeteners that don't need to be counted under that added sugars line. I was fortunate enough to moderate a fireside chat on advances in rare sugars and talked with experts from Ingredion, Bonumose and the ASR Group and they really provided insights into formulation challenges in replacing sugar and how these products can become better-tasting, and any formulation challenges.

They really focused on two particular ingredients, tagatose and allulose. Allulose has been getting a lot of coverage lately because it doesn't need to be counted under the added sugars line. We also saw a lot of movement in Stevia, which again has been one of the trail blazers in alternative sweeteners. Tate & Lyle launched its Sweetener Advantage Expert System. It's a new set of innovative sweetener solutions and design tools, along with education programs that are designed to help formulators create sugar-reduced food and drink products that are low in calorie but big on taste. ADM/Matsutani introduced its Fibersol-2 series and it offers an increase in total fiber content while reducing sugar and calories. What I liked about it is that it's non-GMO, but it's available in a powder, liquid and agglomerated format, so it’s got three different formats for ease of use, it helps with processing stability, solubility, and freezing point on certain products. Next-generation Stevia, we saw that with Cargill and Ingredion.

There are just so many to mention that we just don’t have enough time, but that is an area that we are continuing to see huge innovation and huge movement. One area that you pointed out was hemp and CBD. That's a huge topic for the industry, so I'd love to hear your insights on that.

Smolokoff: Yeah, of course. As far as hemp and CBD are concerned, I think one of the things that really first drew my attention was just the sheer volume of ingredients again. Obviously, hemp and CBD, those were huge, huge topics last year to two years ago, but it did seem like some of the momentum was dying down a little bit. I feel like just through reading and being within the industry I've heard less about it over the last, maybe six months or so than I had a year leading up to it. But I saw plenty of new ingredients and new products that were very interesting. I highlighted just a couple.

Blue Sky Ventures had hulled hempseed and hemp protein powder. So again, looking at hemp proteins. Hemp is really kind of making a name for itself as one of the possibilities as far as plant-based proteins are concerned. I saw Caliper ingredients had a water-soluble CBD. We're seeing a lot of CBD beverages on the market these days, and so having a water-soluble form, obviously is important if you want to have that perfect mouthfeel when it comes to a beverage that contains some of these functional ingredients. HFI Hemp Cannabinoids has a broad-spectrum soft chew, which I thought was really interesting. Sort of a new way of getting these ingredients in fun and exciting ways, almost like a candy. It was naturally flavored with blueberry. Key Life Sciences had several hemp ingredients, including a hemp oil. Our Fats & Oils digital magazine will be coming out soon, we'll be publishing next week. There is an entire article in there from Brian Zapp about the benefits of hemp oil. It's rich in Omega-3’s, has a fantastic Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, so you can read even more about that hemp oil in our upcoming digital magazine.

Prinova HydroBond CBD was a powder or water-soluble mix which again, CBD drinks I feel like are huge these days and certainly were over the last few years as well. So, just all sorts of different formats, different functions, and really getting CBD and its benefits into really the entire gamut of food and beverage I just thought was really interesting, really innovative and it stood out to me that the momentum that I feel like I had seen over the last year or two hasn’t gone anywhere, even if I’m hearing maybe a little bit less about it. That market seems to be alive and well with new and innovative products.

Bizzozero: Yeah, and I definitely think that we're seeing that because we're seeing more flavor companies dabbling in this area. And you know what, CBD and hemp is a slippery slope because of the non-regulation right now. All of the flavors that Bell has created contained no active ingredients of THC or CBD. They had full flavors, full flavor masking, enhancers to cover that funky taste that you can have. Flavorcan also highlighted its range of flavor ingredients for edibles and beverages focusing on masking agents and bitter blockers. We're seeing the entire spectrum kind of come to play, but this is a huge topic in the supplement world and it's just now gaining steam in food and beverage, so it's really creating a lot of opportunity in this space, but I also encourage our listeners to go to to learn about this topic. We've really been focusing heavily on it.

So, let’s wrap this up with what our favorite part of the experience was. For me, it was the daily shuttle bus. It was hosted by Luan Blancher, she's the associate category manager at Givaudan, and David Bloom, he was awesome. He's the consumer first design specialist at General Mills. They were terrific and they were joined each day by a special guest to talk about their thoughts and insights. Day one their guest was Lu Ann Williams from Innova Market Insights. Everyone knows Lu Ann, she’s awesome. Day two, again, another Rockstar, Lynn Dornblaser from Mintel, and on day three was Mary Ellen Kuhn, she’s executive editor of IFT Food Technology magazine. You know, it really was the shuttle bus chatter, only without the humidity, the bulging bags of swag and literature and samples, but you really felt like you were on the bus. You got to hear the daily chatter of what these individuals found as really intriguing, interesting launches, discussions on the virtual trade show, etc. So, what was your favorite part of the Expo for you?

Smolokoff: Yeah, so you know, as I mentioned at the top of the podcast, I was sort of in the interesting position of having nothing to compare this to. So, while you obviously were able to enjoy some of the familiar aspects that you were still able to achieve, even with such a virtual show, I was really just blown away at how successful a virtual show was. I found that IFT did an amazing job of making sure that you could find exhibitors, you could read all of the materials that were available about these new products, you could very easily access the webinars either if you were able to catch them live or they were almost immediately on demand to catch later in the day. So, it really felt like being at a show.

You kind of work at your own pace, you get to things when you can, but I was just really blown away by how well they were able to make everything accessible. Everything that I wanted to see I was able to see. Everything that I wanted to hear, I was able to hear. I was able to catch so many different speakers, see so many different products. And while, you know that aspect of in-person chitchat and being able to sample things was obviously missing, as someone who has not been to an IFT show in person, I was just floored by how well they were able to shift things to a virtual show really on the fly and make the best of what is clearly not a great situation around the world right now, but still get everything that you would expect from an IFT show into one without the in-person meeting. I think they did a really good job of setting an example for what you can do to shift a show from typically being in-person to being fully virtual without losing a ton in the process. So, I just I just want to commend them on doing a great job of shifting everything to virtual and really making it feel like you weren't missing anything despite the very, very strange circumstances.

Bizzozero: Okay great, thanks Alex. I think that’s a wrap us on the IFT trends recap. And for our listeners, we will catch you again on our next podcast, airing soon.


About the Author(s)

Judie Bizzozero

Content Director, Informa Markets Health & Nutrition

Judie Bizzozero oversees food and beverage content strategy and development for the Health & Nutrition group at Informa Markets (which acquired VIRGO in 2014), including the Food & Beverage Insider, Natural Products Insider and SupplySide/Food ingredients North America brands. She reports on market trends, science-based ingredients, and challenges and solutions in the development of healthy foods and beverages. Bizzozero graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

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