By Len Monheit
Thousands from our industry converged last week for IFT in New Orleans, an event described by many as adequate, but certainly not stellar.
New Orleans is always a tough place to do an event. Amidst the distractions ofBourbon Street and the French Quarter, companies try to engage an audience primarily made up of industry and academic scientists perhaps interested new fiber and protein sources, many of whom stroll the show floor as an easy break from eternal scientific lectures.
This was an especially tough year to attempt a New Orleans event. Despite the fact that the neighborhoods in which many from IFT would congregate were not directly affected by Katrina, the overall impact on the city was evident and probably a concern to some prospective attendees. By far the biggest impact though, was what I’ll term the “Chicago hangover”, the fate that befalls any IFT event taking place in the year after the Chicago show. The Chicago IFT event is the one you have to go to, where everyone participates with large contingents and where industry attendees are present in largest numbers. So any year directly following a Chicago event is bound to be of poorer value and critical mass, and coupled with other New Orleans ‘issues’, including weather, a challenging event to deliver solid ROI.
Despite the challenges, a good time was had by many, and with hospitality events onBourbon Street and local restaurants, the industry’s business was advanced. From a news standpoint, Bunge’s acquisition of Corn Products created a bit of a stir, and as noted above, much of the buzz was about fiber and protein with little in the totally new really resonating. It does seem like there’s awareness and hence momentum around probiotics, especially as the North American consumer seems finally to have the right health association for probiotics, and we saw limited promotion of flavor systems compared to previous years, along with some predictable buzz about sweeteners. A Vitamin K2 presentation by Dr. Leon Shurgers from MaastrichtUniversity at the PL Thomas booth was informative and compelling, and I learned too of technologies designed to enhance the receptor binding of ‘sweet’ molecules to the tastebud, hence reducing the amount of sweetener required for the same sweet effect. This is a different approach to ‘healthy’, one with applied technology, and underscores the fact that almost everyone on the show floor had a healthy proposition of some sort.
From a product concept standpoint, it continues to amaze me how a graze through the show floor is a walk through sensory bombardment. Last year, I coined the term ‘functional decadence’ and this year took the concept to new extremes.
As one single takeaway, based on my own experiences and interactions with selected guides whose advice I value highly, there is a fundamental disconnect in the value proposition delivered by an IFT event too largely focused on academic interests. Exhibitors, by and large, have determined that innovation tends to percolate at marketing and brand management levels in food and beverage companies. Analyzing this tradeshow though, show floor walkers were largely R and D scientists (academic or industry). This means that somewhere, there’s a communication and audience gap, making ROI calculations difficult or even impossible. Without a critical mass of brand managers and actual innovation experts, it is difficult for this show to deliver tangible value for many exhibitors – another element of the Chicago hangover.