As a food industry trade show junkie, I try to hit as many food shows as possible but somehow I never had a chance to attend IFT Wellness – probably because its in Chicago and I normally live in California and it happens during that cold time of year. But as luck had it, I happened to be in Chicago finishing off my 8-month project with Kraft and managed to squeeze in Wellness during my last two days in Chi Town!
IFT Wellness is different from the other conferences- I felt like I was amongst the upper crust of the food industry!. Everyone there was just SO SMART!!! There was no sleazy vibe of 10,000 ingredient companies trying to sell me salt, sugar, and xanthan-just intellectual food scientists lecturing on the latest important food industry topics related to wellness. Now I understand the slightly hefty price tag for this two-day event, they really brought in the true experts in our field.
One of my favorite lectures was by Holly J Bayne-a lawyer in a very sharp red power suit- who talked about the word “Natural”. Basically, there are three different definitions and lots of lawsuits going on. IE Ben and Jerry, the nice hippie ice cream guys (or their parent Unilever anyway) got in trouble for putting all natural on their frozen dessert that included Dutch processed cocoa! There is a pending case against Frito Lay for calling their chips natural when actually their soy was derived from GMO’s. Chobani Yogurt used the “evaporated cane juice” word, which is confusing because it makes consumers think that sugar is this healthy evaporated product from a sugar cane stalk.
I was also very excited to see Dr. Eric Decker, food science professor from the University of Massachusetts. I knew Dr. Decker when he was just a young up and coming professor back in 1994- and how he is top dog over there, head of the department. Dr. Decker gave a great lecture on how processed can contribute to a healthy diet. It’s all about choices. Processed foods save us time and are fortified and can help us get in our daily nutrient needs. Processed foods make life easier, its just all about picking and choosing the right processed foods.
Dr. Decker ended his seminar saying that us, as an industry, must work to convince the consumer that processing foods is essential for delivering a healthy food supply that is accessible to everyone. He also suggested we contact our local congressman and ask him why the government is not funding research to make the food supply healthier.
LuAnn Williams, Director of Innovation from Innova Market Insights gave a great talk during our luncheon, Nutrition Bench Mark-Who’s Improving America’s Health. She demonstrated how companies like Con Agra, Sara Lee and General Mills are all committed to reducing sodium and sugar in their food. Meanwhile sales of healthy items like pistachios and Trop 50 are having an impact with successful launches of their products. LuAnn even cited a great article that hardly anyone has seen, written by Smithsonian Magazine –Can Technology Save Breakfast? Which looked towards forward thinking food companies as the future industry leaders in nutritional salvation.
The Expo was small but filled with interesting companies that are doing nutritional value added research. No one tried to sell me anything- just pure food tech conversations and connecting with fellow industry experts. The Almond Board was there, so was Carmi (with their delicious caramel popcorn!). I appreciated the great networking opportunities that came out of both the seminars and the small (but selective) trade show portion.
Hoping IFT Wellness can be in San Francisco next year- perhaps in Napa?