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Fi Europe 2023 sees record attendance, innovation

In its 38th year, Food ingredients Europe headed back to Frankfurt, Germany for a blockbuster, weeklong event. It included the “Future of Nutrition Summit,” innovation awards and 20 pavilions representing 20 countries.

Audarshia Townsend

November 30, 2023

4 Min Read
Steve Burden Photography

At a Glance

  • "Future of Nutrition Summit" highlighted key trends in AgTech, seaweed, plant-based foods and alternative proteins.
  • Europe's biggest food innovation event unveiled latest trends in sustainable ingredients.
  • More than 1,400 exhibitors presented innovative solutions across categories like sensory, reformulation and plant based.

There’s no such thing as a utopia. That’s been well established as far as a destination, but who says it cannot be found in what we consume?

Health and nutrition-focused shows like SupplySide West/Food ingredients North America (SSW/FiNA) and Food ingredients Europe (FiE) make it their mission to serve as global incubators for the industry. They aim to lead food innovators down the right path to build unique, better-for-you products that taste good, highlight great sustainable stories and keep consumers coming back for more.

The latter event, in its 38th year, distinguishes itself as the flagship event of Informa’s Fi Global portfolio, uniting leading suppliers, manufacturers and industry experts across the F&B industry. The four-day event was held the last week of November in Frankfurt, Germany, at Messe Frankfurt, an approximately 4.1 million-square-foot exhibition hall.

Concerning numbers, FiE 2023 certainly outdid itself, making great use of much of that vast space. For example, 1,407 exhibitors—up 22% from 2022—presented innovative ingredients and solutions across categories like sensory, reformulation, organic and plant based. Also, 20 country pavilions represented the likes of Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, Korea, Poland, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and host country Germany. Three thematic pavilions focused solely on startups, IPA probiotics and emerging markets. And there were a reported 21,518 pre-registered visitors (+30% vs. 2022) from which 80.5% were international. When combined with exhibitor attendees, there was a total of 32,665 attendees registered for the show.

Related:New sustainable F&B plastic packaging removes fossil fuels

Quite a few attendees were first-timers to the show, including Monica Bhatia of EQUII, which uses a fermentation-based natural process to create a proprietary protein flour. Her unique product won the Startup Innovation Challenge’s “Ingredient of the Year in Food and Beverage,” and she was thrilled that she was able to accept the award in person. Bhatia traveled from her home base in California. (Here are all the winners of the Startup Innovation Challenge.)

“Our first product is in bakery, and we think Europe is the place to go when it comes to this category,” Bhatia said. “So, we'd love to bring our innovation to Europe, meet more people, introduce the concept. That's why I'm here and it paid off.”

Meanwhile, Anian Schreiber’s company was a finalist in the Fi Europe Innovation Awards. The co-founder of Koa Switzerland didn’t win the Sustainability Innovation award up against industry giants Cargill and ofi. Nevertheless, he was thrilled to gain recognition for his company, which upcycles cocoa pulp to provide extra income for Ghanian farmers.

Related:‘Sustainability’ needs new clarity

“I looked for opportunities where we [could] plug in solar electricity in existing value chains that are not efficient, that are not sustainable, and where you can use the new technology, the solar technology, to create something,” Schreiber explained. “We looked across all different opportunities, including gold, timber and everything and came across the cocoa fruit, realized the post-harvest process is more than 300 years old.

“75% of the fruit is wasted … part of the problem—in this case food waste—has to be part of the solution. We set out to upcycle [cocoa pulp] in order to create something new, and that's exactly what we did.” Applications for the naturally sweet pulp include cocoa juice—a concoction tasting like apple juice enhanced by chocolate—ice cream, baked goods, confections and even savory creations.

Approaching sustainability at every angle

Sustainable solutions and sustainable ingredients were a recurring theme throughout FiE, beginning with the “Future of Nutrition Summit,” an exclusive, daylong conference for C-level F&B professionals. Occurring the first day of the show, the sessions featured engaging panel discussions such as “How AgTech is Changing the Face of Agriculture,” “Seaweed: The Greatest Untapped Resource,” “How Data Science and AI Can Shape the Future of Plant-Based Foods” and “Feeding the Future: The Alternative Protein Landscape.”

Related:‘Unhealthy’ plant-based diet shows no benefit to diabetes risk

For example, Vincent Doumeizel, senior advisor for ocean, United National Global Compact, who also serves as director, Food Programme, Lloyd’s Register Foundation, presented a comprehensive seaweed study for the audience.

He made a strong case for the algae, adding that there's a lot of other things formulators can do with seaweed because “it's a magic resource.”

He continued, “It’s very good for your health. That's one thing. And they are a nutritional bomb as well. They are full of magnesium…it's a super source of protein. The other cool thing about seaweed is that when you dry them, you can keep them for months—and it keeps all the nutrients [intact], unlike terrestrial plants.”

Doumeizel gave credit to Asian countries like China for establishing a “seaweed revolution” and cultivating it so as to take advantage of its rich nutrients and sustainable characteristics.

“They harvest them once a year and they put them back on land,” he said. “They create a circular economy for their agriculture. They upcycle all their bio-resources from the land to the ocean. So, we are talking about something really, really powerful that reconnects the land and the ocean.”

Doumeizel believes there are several reasons why Westernized countries underutilize seaweed as a viable ingredient.

“First of all, there’s a limited understanding of potential and need for advocacy,” he explained. “We have a very fragmented industry outside of Asia. We have a lack of aligned regulation and standards, an insurability problem, technology barriers, notably in terms of extracting compounds, and the need for social licensing and spatial planning.”

About the Author(s)

Audarshia Townsend

Content Director, Food & Beverage Insider, Informa Markets

A lifelong Chicagoan, Audarshia Townsend is an award-winning, veteran food and beverage journalist who serves as the content director for the Food & Beverage Insider brand. Her experience as a visionary editor and writer spans 30 years, with an emphasis in print and digital magazines. Audarshia's professional passion is to champion and amplify underserved business communities. Some of her most recent content includes her review of 2023's F&B trends, the future of food science careers, an interview with culinary star Padma Lakshmi, and Pescavore's sustainable ahi tuna jerky strips. She also appears regularly on local and national media outlets to discuss food and beverage trends, most notably FOX-32 Chicago, WGN-TV, WXRT-FM, NPR-Chicago and the Travel Channel. She is often called on to serve as a judge for prestigious food, beverage and restaurant awards, including the James Beard Foundation, NEXTY Awards and Black Women in Food. She continues to write for Chicago magazine, and previously she has written for the likes of the Chicago Tribune, Eater Chicago, Esquire, Essence, Playboy, Time Out Global and World’s Best Bars. To date, Audarshia has guest lectured at the following higher-education institutions: Columbia College Chicago for undergraduate journalism students; Northwestern University for graduate journalism students; and Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) for undergraduate, graduate and PhD food science students. She also mentors aspiring young writers and journalists whenever she can. Email her at [email protected] and also connect with her on LinkedIn.

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