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Top Drink Trends at the IFT FIRST Conference

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As explored in Euromonitor International’s recent food-focused article, the Institute of Food Technologist’s (IFT) annual conference highlights the newest developments in food and ingredient production, research, and innovation. While the primary focus of the conference was on trends and breakthroughs in the food industry, the implications of the findings and concerns in the edible space hold relevance in the potable space. The nutritional trends and expansive academic studies warrant a closer look.

Sweetener, fibre and function to the forefront

While not willing to quash the massive clamour for protein, many vendors at the conference were also promoting solutions to other nutritional zeitgeists. Sweeteners were a particularly hot topic after the recent assessment by the World Health Organization of aspartame’s potential carcinogenic properties. Those interviewed by Euromonitor International in attendance about the news were ambivalent about how the findings would alter consumption behaviour, believing consumers are more focused on sugar reduction and find it difficult to catalogue the varying health risks of sweeteners. Ingredients suppliers are prepared in any instance, offering a deep bench of natural and synthesised sweeteners that can provide the versality needed to meet any product target. Prebiotics are becoming increasingly popular in the beverage space, and this was evident at the conference with the ubiquity of suppliers and producers discussing fibre. Sessions focused on a range of novel ingredients and processes impacting juice, fermented, and dairy beverages, as well as the general health benefits of fibre in treating intestinal and coronary disease.

Functional ingredients, very much a catch-all outside of the consumer’s notion of macro and micro-nutrients, rounded out the bigger beverage trends at the conference. Taurine was highlighted in large bold print above multiple exhibitor banners. Adaptogens and nootropics solutions were promised for everything from juice to hot and cold coffee. Ergothioneine, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that can be readily derived from mushrooms, took stage at a well-attended session on its application possibilities in food and beverages. The promise of these functional ingredients reaches beyond the purely nutritive; another talk dove specifically into this “mood-scape” of consumers and how emotional conditions influence purchase behaviour. The market is looking for a solution to a swath of mood states from joyful to stressed and all kinds of producers are engaging with these needs.Top Drink Trends conference.svg

Innovative research drives flavour exploration and greater focus

One of the highlights of the conference for Euromonitor International was being able to dig deep into the Research Poster Showcase to see the wealth of possibilities for food and drink. Hundreds of discoveries explored what novel processes, technologies, and approaches could do for the future of ingredients and products.SCOBY, the key biological basis of kombucha, was exposed to freeze-drying to understand how this process drastically alters the flavour and aroma profile of the product. Multiple papers discussed the revelation of the e-tongue, a sensory technology devoid of personal bias and inexperience, to offer a comprehensive analytical approach to ingredient and product evaluation. The effects of High-Pressure Processing (HPP) were studied in a range of products from blueberry juice to oat milk to tea leaves. New possibilities for flavours and aroma in beer were attributed to unique gene expressions in brewer’s yeast.

Emerging from this research is an increasing call for top-down driven product planning and design. Scaling to full production from either a novel pilot trial or extending an existing product to meet a new target warrants greater caution then ever. The pitfalls of a post-pandemic era appear graver, with aggressive vying for limited retail shelf space and fears of supply-chain issues still haunting some attendees. One talk discussed the importance of tapping flavour, aroma, and textural expertise across the full range of food and beverage players. Anecdotes of companies spending years to resolve product design issues only to find out the solution was not a trade secret were numerous and a costly warning against researching in a vacuum. Getting the right product to market is time-intensive and expensive, but missing the target is a more costly fate.

The IFT FIRST conference is a wellspring both for food and drink, and the thought-provoking research and talks create a proactive and futurist vision for the beverage industry.

To read more about overall drink trends, please visit our article Soft Drinks in the Americas: How Gen Z is Investing in Health.

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