When the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual event and expo returns to an in-person experience for the first time in two years July 10-13 in Chicago, the trade show’s IFT FIRST rebrand will be far from the only update to the activities.

At IFT FIRST – an acronym derived from Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology – numerous features will explore this year’s theme, “Hacking the Food Supply: Can We Synthesize a More Sustainable Future?”

Melodie Anderson, director of meeting and exhibit experiences at IFT, said programming throughout the show will address that important question with the latest science, insights, research and industry solutions. She said the 18,000 expected attendees can look forward to more discussions and fewer lectures, as well as more debates with shorter sessions.

In fact, this year’s event will open with a debate. Industry experts will weigh in with their stances when posed with the question, “Should we eat more processed foods?” The session is expected to deliver a lively examination of the pros and cons that come with food processing.

Following two consecutive annual IFT shows that were completely virtual due to the pandemic, IFT FIRST will be a hybrid event, catering to both online and in-person attendees.

“We will live stream the featured sessions and keynotes, from the Business FIRST stage and Live from IFT FIRST, an anchor desk of sorts,” Anderson said. “IFT FIRST is the place where transformational partnerships begin.”

Anderson said another aspect of the reformed schedule is a NASA research and development panel, featuring former astronaut Dr. Scott Parazynski. She also highlighted that startups and investors will be able to observe panel discussions on a number of topics through IFT’s Business FIRST programming, which will cover careers in food tech, supply chain challenges, tackling food waste, shifting consumer demands and more.

“With our reimagined programming, gone are the days of sitting in a conference room, listening to speaker after speaker talk at you,” Anderson said. “This year’s theme, ‘Hacking the Food Supply: Can We Synthesize a More Sustainable Future?’ promises to ignite conversations with your colleagues and peers.”

After the panels, debates and expo wrap up for the day on Monday, July 11, IFT’s newly devised Social Hopper Pass will provide attendees with unlimited access to a number of social receptions and resource groups at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Many portions of this year’s program will cover topics pertinent to the dairy industry. Anderson said the programming includes numerous on-demand sessions specific to dairy, including: “How Consumers Perceive Dairy Sustainability: Facts and Fiction,” “Cold Chain Food Logistics,” “Building a Sustainable Supply Chain,” “A World Without Cows,” and “Dairy Products vs. Dairy Alternatives: What About Texture?”

She noted that dairy professionals “don’t want to miss” various live sessions about innovations in food, food safety, sustainability and food packaging either.

IFT also is thrilled for the return of its popular food expo, she said. The event boasts the “largest B2B food ingredient expo in North America,” with 700 exhibitors showing what’s new in food ingredients, industry trends and intelligence.

“The expo will feature the industry’s most comprehensive collection of food ingredient, equipment, processing, technology, and packaging solution providers, allowing attendees to showcase and discover new, innovative products,” Anderson said.