IFT 2017 Recap

This year’s edition of the annual Institute of Food Technology (IFT) show, held June 25 through June 28 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, gave a glimpse into the future of the food and beverage industry. The venue hosted over 20,000 attendees and 1,200 exhibitors showcasing a range of ingredients, flavorings, colorings, sweeteners and everything in between, painting a broad portrait of the current state of the industry and pointing the way towards further developments and innovations that are only just beginning to emerge.

The drive towards clean ingredient labels was one of the dominant themes of this year’s event. According to market research group Mintel, 30 percent of U.S. food and beverage shoppers would purchase more store brand food and drink products if they contained ingredients that are easily recognizable. Furthermore, 32 percent of U.S. consumers agree foods with “natural” claims are good for their health. Exhibitors across the spectrum followed that guiding principle in their development of plant-based proteins, sweeteners, and other products.

From natural sweeteners to new synthetic blends, ingredient manufacturers at IFT 17 showcased a variety of new innovations aimed squarely at reducing sugar content, if not eliminating it altogether.

In terms of natural sweeteners, stevia remains one of the most popular — and one of the most polarizing. At IFT, companies showcased stevia innovations designed to deliver a cleaner, better tasting experience. BESTEVIA Reb M, developed by Westchester, Ill.-based manufacturer Ingredion, is formulated to deliver higher sweetness and less bitterness than Reb A stevia, which can have a bitter taste when used in larger quantities, and thus reduce the usage of certain masking agents which are commonly used to curb stevia’s aftertaste.

Manufacturers are also looking into potential functional benefits for sweeteners and sugar substitutes. Matsusani Chemical Industry Co. showcased Astraea, a proprietary zero-calorie sweetener made from the rare sugar allulose that is popular in the Japanese market, available in both crystalline and liquid formats. Along with providing sweetness, some studies have shown it could also help lower blood-glucose levels by inhibiting the digestion of starch in the intestine. Further clinical trials are needed to confirm the preliminary results before the company can make health claims, but allulose’s recognition by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a GRAS ingredient in 2014 means it has a pathway towards mainstream adoption in the future. Tate & Lyle also showcased DOLCIA PRIMA Allulose, available in both crystalline and syrup formats, at IFT.

As consumers seek greater variety in both protein and plant-based products, ingredient manufacturers are exploring various natural ingredients that can deliver that combination in food and beverage products.

The rising prominence of peas as a valued ingredient on the plant-based protein landscape was reinforced at IFT 17. French company Roquette, which will become the world’s largest producer of pea protein when its new $300 million dedicated pea protein manufacturing center in Canada starts production in 2019, showcased its NUTRALYS line, which includes a variety of isolates and textured proteins that can be used as an alternative to milk and soy-based sources in food and beverages. Meanwhile, Axiom Foods, the largest maker of plant protein ingredients in the U.S., debuted VegoteinTM MA, a non-GMO pea protein developed as a meat extender that can add nutritional value and lower costs for burgers and other meat products.

Suppliers exhibiting at IFT 17 were also looking for ways in which to make plant-based proteins more palatable to consumers. Bev Edge, a new particle dispersion technology developed by Glanbia, eliminates the need for lecithin, an emulsifier typically used for dissolving powders, in theory allowing beverage companies to create better-tasting and more marketable plant-based protein products with the clean ingredient profiles. Glanbia’s BevEdge Pea Protein, for example, is formulated to dissolve instantly and better mask the pea notes in the flavor.

The development and integration of botanical ingredients, including adaptogenic herbs, into new products and applications was evident at IFT 2017 and fit with the overall movement towards clean ingredient labels. Naturex, a French company specializing in plant-based natural ingredients, has expanded its botanical offerings in recent years with the aim of delivering a cohesive experience that’s visually appealing, healthy and tastes great. At the show, the company exhibited floral extracts such as elderflower, hibiscus and rose, the latter of which is processed without grinding to create a 100 percent pure product, as well as function-forward natural ingredients like maca root and yerba mate.

Beyond enhancing flavor profiles, some companies are exploring how natural ingredients can function as a means of adding visual appeal to products, particularly in terms of sharing on social media. Turmeric, for example, adds a bright orange hue, while matcha, which increased in use in food and beverage innovations by 30 percent globally in 2016, provides a distinct light green coloring.