CHICAGO — No one really knows what’s next in the world of food innovation, but ingredient suppliers at this year’s virtual conference from the Institute of Food Technologists have a good idea of where current product development efforts need to focus. The challenge for them is to show — and sample — their innovation efforts with the industry, as this was the second virtual expo since the onset of the pandemic.

Many of the 101 companies that participated in the Supplier Suites portion of IFT FIRST on July 19-21 highlighted their ingredient technology through videos of hands-on demonstrations. Further, many have used this past year to build their in-house customer labs and used IFT FIRST to showcase capabilities and to invite customers to innovate at them. It’s all about being prepared for what’s next.

A part of that preparation is revisiting what healthy means, since what it means to one person may be different than what it means to another. This variability presents considerable opportunity for food and beverage formulators to define healthy as it relates to their product.

“People are looking for a lot of different things,” said Joan Driggs, vice president of content and thought leadership, Information Resources, Inc., Chicago, during one of the conference’s presentations.

Most consumers have more than six personal health and wellness goals, she said. This includes everything from getting better sleep to improving mental acuity to destressing and managing weight. The pandemic made people more mindful of these goals. It also made consumers more aware of the role of food and beverage in attaining the goals.

Formulating for what’s next requires a new mindset in terms of what is healthy for humans, for the planet and for businesses. Discerning what’s next also requires elements of addressing sustainability and supply chain resilience, while keeping nutrition, clean label and other qualities top of mind.

“Food and beverage formulators find it challenging to develop products that meet the ever-increasing desire for clean labels while also meeting demand for greater nutritional value, better flavor and improved mouthfeel,” said Ron Hayes, marketing manager, Idaho Milk Products, Jerome, Idaho. “Imagine trying to create a food product with fewer ingredients while adding more protein to already densely packed servings or craft specific products addressing the needs of a particular segment.”

At IFT FIRST, Idaho Milk Products exhibited its dairy ingredients produced using a technology that reduces the mineral content in milk proteins. This includes milk protein concentrate and micellular casein.

“Milk proteins with reduced mineral content help solve these issues and conceive clean label products, add more protein to beverages and yogurts, replace caseinates in current formulations and more,” Mr. Hayes said. “To improve speed to market with high levels of confidence and confidentiality, we recently opened our Milk Innovation Center, which offers our customers a truly collaborative experience in formulating winning consumer products, from concept to packaging samples.”

Kemin Industries, Des Moines, Iowa, recognizes the marketplace is changing and processors must adapt quickly to stay relevant. Retailers want to stock products shoppers buy. That’s why Kemin encourages product developers to work with its Customer Laboratory Services (CLS) team.

“The team’s technical expertise and problem-solving skills will help you develop a tailored clean label solution to assist with producing the highest-quality product,” said Courtney Schwartz, marketing director. “Our CLS team provides dedicated support throughout all phases of testing to understand the influences of all food ingredients on the stability of your final product.”

The research scientists evaluate the oxidative stability and microbial stability using analytical techniques and accelerated oxidation tests. They assist with maximizing ingredient efficiency by helping determine an effective treatment for the product, identify the correct inclusion rate and help establish the best point of application.

“(The new) textured protein helps food developers formulate consumer-preferred, alternative meat products without compromising taste and texture,” said Kristen Germana, senior manager, business development for plant-based proteins. “Ingredion’s broad plant-based protein portfolio and tested formulation experience mean that developers now have a complete toolkit for creating alternative meat products that mimic the bite and chew of animal proteins, while balancing texture, taste and functionality.”

At Ingredion’s Plant-Based Meat Center of Excellence in Englewood, Colo., developers can work remotely or alongside experts to take their plant protein-enhanced products from concept to launch. The new ingredient is labeled as pea protein and provides 65% protein (dry weight). It can help support several package claims, including non-GMO, and does not require allergen labeling, as it is free of gluten, wheat and soy.

Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition North America Inc., Itasca, Ill., focused on how its ingredients may assist with making plant-based meat products better mimic the real deal. The company’s offerings include enzyme products designed to help build texture in plant-based products. There are also ingredients to assist with flavor development while minimizing sodium content, a common drawback in many meat substitutes. To provide umami and kokumi, the company offers yeast, yeast extracts and monosodium glutamate ingredients.

“Umami and kokumi usage is seeing considerable growth in the plant-based segment,” said Joe Formanek, director of ingredient innovation at Ajinomoto. “Through the improvement of taste and texture, we can help to promote the enjoyment of foods that people should be eating more of.”

“Home Kitchen” is the name of the interactive trend and innovation hub Tate & Lyle, Hoffman Estates, Ill. It debuted earlier this year and continues to add content on a weekly basis. IFT FIRST attendees were shown how the site works and were “first” to see just-launched demonstrations, industry analysis and insights on the at-home consumer.

“Within the site, we’ve added the ‘Teapot,’ which calls out this week’s additions to the Kitchen,” said Kelly Noonan, marketing events and communications manager. “’Trends in Seven’ are short episodes hosted by our global market research team. There’s also ‘Culinary Prototypes,’ which includes videos showing Chef Christine Kerekes creating foods we have available to send to customers to taste.”

Cargill, Minneapolis, emphasized how it is responding to increased interest in and demand for sustainably sourced ingredients. The company is one of North America’s first large-scale suppliers of segregated palm oil certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

“Palm oil plays a critical role in feeding and supporting millions, as it is the world’s most widely used vegetable oil,” said Jamie Mavec, marketing manager at Cargill. “With growing numbers of brands pledging to source palm oil responsibly, Cargill is now positioned to supply North American food manufacturers with sufficient quantities of segregated RSPO-certified product to meet their sustainability commitments.”

The expanded supply means consumers may soon see sustainable palm oil used in everything from bakery and snacks to dairy alternatives and non-dairy creamers.

Multi-functional plant-based oil systems designed for meat and dairy alternatives were showcased in a variety of on-trend prototypes by AAK, Edison, NJ. This included a pizza cheese topping, bacon analog that fries like conventional bacon, and hard and soft butter-type spreads.

Beneo Inc., Parsippany, N.J., featured its clean label rice starch in a dairy-free vanilla yogurt and a dairy-free, oat-based dulce le leche spread.

“Replacing the integral texture of dairy fat is no small challenge,” said Steven Gumeny, regional product manager-rice ingredients. “Rice starch naturally provides a similar texture and mouthfeel, along with great stability and process tolerance.”

Van Drunen Farms, Momence, Ill., showcased its array of dehydrated fruit and vegetable pieces and powders that may assist formulators with achieving whole food serving claims. Fruit and vegetable powders provide functional uses, including delivering flavor and whole food nutrition, answering the call for convenient, better-for-you products.

“In addition to dehydrated ingredients, we also offer value-added services such as fire-roasting and individually quick freezing vegetables, which is a big time and labor saver,” said Vicki Gawlinski, director, content and communications. “We offer custom ingredient solutions to fit specific formulation needs and make healthy eating easier for consumers.”

Fargo, ND-based Healthy Food Ingredients is a new player in the hemp-derived cannabinoids industry. The company now offers cannabidiol isolate (98%) and full-spectrum and broad-spectrum hemp extracts. All ingredients contain zero tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive component of cannabis.