IFT FIRST: Annual Event & Expo, the global food science event hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is known as an event that unites the top minds in academia, government and industry.

The theme of this year’s IFT FIRST (Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology), which is scheduled for July 14-17, at McCormick Place in Chicago, is Collaboration + Innovation: How Can Food Science and Technology Transform the Food System?

“IFT FIRST has a well earned reputation for being the one event the science of food community simply can’t afford to miss,” said IFT chief executive officer Christie Tarantino-Dean. “For many attendees, this is the only event they attend every year, and for good reason. From dynamic cutting-edge scientific programming and high-value networking opportunities to the world’s top showcase of science of food innovation – the expo floor – IFT FIRST is where the food science community unites to address our biggest food challenges.”

IFT FIRST includes the largest global food science and innovation expo, with more than 1,000 exhibitors offering the latest in ingredients, food and food tech trends, food tastings and exposure to global innovations in food. The three-day expo hall experience features a blend of leading US and international companies exhibiting their latest food innovations, and offering samples and explaining the science behind each bite on the Taste of Science stage.


Startup pavilion

Returning once again this year will be the popular Startup Pavilion, which features up to 100 food and food-tech startups in all stages of funding. This popular showcase of global food and food tech startups attracted nearly 9,000 visitors and featured more than 85 companies from 14 countries last year, with innovations ranging from technological solutions that improve ingredient quality and safety to innovative consumer goods already on the market.

“The Startup Pavilion is an exciting opportunity for innovative startups from across the globe to showcase their solutions to investors, key decision-makers and industry stakeholders that they may not otherwise have access to,” Tarantino-Dean said. “The Startup Pavilion encapsulates this year’s IFT FIRST theme of collaboration and innovation, as we highlight game-changing products and applications with the potential to transform the food system.”

More than half of last year’s attendees also visited The Pitch, a multi-round, rapid-paced pitch competition offering $15,000 in prizes, courtesy of the Seeding The Future Foundation. Each round of the competition is judged by a panel of professionals who represent the entire global food ecosystem, including those from venture capitalist firms and startup incubators, innovation leaders, academic researchers, research and design professionals, and government officials. Finalists from The Pitch will once again have the opportunity to attend an invitation-only founders and funders networking event that connects startups and social enterprises with potential investors and supporting partners.

The Innovation Lab, an interactive product development experience where participants are challenged with creating a new product based on a consumer need, will also be returning. This year’s event will also feature the return of one of the most talked-about additions to IFT FIRST last year – the Braindate Lounge. The unique peer-to-peer learning and networking experience connects problem-solvers and like-minded food professionals in a fun, casual environment that allows attendees to engage in meaningful conversations while expanding their networks.

Last year, Helaina, a biotech company with a technology platform that replicates bioactive functional proteins found in the body, won The Pitch grand prize of $10,000. SnapDNA, which developed technology to reduce pathogen detection in food from days to hours, and unClassic foods, which creates a plant-based meat substitute from oyster mushrooms, were selected as runners-up, each receiving $2,500.

“By recognizing and supporting game-changing new approaches highlighted by participants in the Startup Pavilion, The Pitch and the Global Food System Challenge, we move closer to the goal of implementing creative and impactful solutions that can provide the growing global population with equitable access to affordable, safe and nutritious food,” said Seeding The Future Foundation’s founder, Bernhard van Lengerich, PhD.

In partnership with IFT, the Seeding The Future Foundation also funds the annual Seeding The Future Global Food System Challenge, which invites scientists, engineers, innovators, entrepreneurs and multidisciplinary teams to submit their game-changing innovations that will help transform the food system. Each entrant in the challenge is vying for part of the $1 million that is awarded to Grand Prize, Growth Grant, and Seed Grant winners. At IFT FIRST, winners from this year’s challenge will discuss their winning innovations with attendees and are invited to join The Pitch finalists at the founders and funders networking event.


Pre-event workshops

IFT has also unveiled the lineup for its pre-event educational workshops, formerly known as short courses, that will officially kick off IFT FIRST, July 13-14 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Registrants will receive workshop materials and a workshop certificate worth 14 credit hours. A complimentary happy hour and networking event for all registered workshop attendees will be held at the conclusion of the first day.

“The pre-event workshops were created to provide the science of food community with the resources and skills to advance their career, as well as provide them with the tools and knowledge to help them in the workplace,” Tarantino-Dean said. “Attendees not only get to learn from top subject-matter experts sharing their cutting-edge research insights while also participating in hands-on practical sessions, but they also have the unique opportunity to network with other workshop attendees to foster the collaboration that helps drive innovation, aligning with this year’s theme.”

More details regarding IFT FIRST, including registration and information regarding accommodations are available on the event’s website.