What a week of excitement filled with great food and networking at IFT First in Chicago. The minute you stepped onto the show floor, you were surrounded by lively industry professionals and enticing samples. The energy was contagious, making the networking easy and the conversations fruitful. With major trends visible, there were also some minor trends and innovations that are on the horizon. We ate our way through the show to capture what the industry has to offer.

Plant Based Meat

The presence of plant based products was overwhelming and definitely the dominant trend at this year’s show. From pulled pork, fried egg rolls, plant burgers to shawarma and lamb pita type dishes; there was no shortage of innovation in this realm. These concepts were made with pea protein, beans, mushrooms, fava bean protein and many other sources. Companies also use plant-based meats to highlight other ingredients like yeast extracts and different fiber sources. Some chose to focus on salt reduction and others focused on fine-tuning the texture. Many  of these concepts were paired with a sauce. Whether it helped to cover off notes or elevate the concept, the sauces were the highlight. The highlights “Lamb” Pita with a dairy free tzatziki and a plant-based slider with a harissa aioli and a honey Aleppo ketchup. Spice was abundant and globally inspired in this sector, as spices and the heat from peppers often made their way into sauces. Garam masala, Mediterranean influence, and Asian flavors filled the show hall. I’m interested to see  where the plant-based trend trend leads, with  the future of innovation being largely untouched.

Hot Ingredients

Innovative ingredients were the highlight of the show, with  fruit purees in barbeque sauces, new fiber sources, and functional ingredients. Many innovations included L-Theanine in the beverage space along with other ingredients like beta glucans, collagen, and ashwagandha. Functional ingredients are finding their way into snacks and beverages. Most notably we saw ashwagandha covered pumpkin seeds, many fruity collagen beverages, and stick pack prebiotic kombucha. Yeast extracts were used in salt reduction for chips and other snacks and innovatively used in a latte beverage for sugar reduction. It has also found its way into beverages in the form of brewer’s yeast as an added postbiotic. Another big beverage trend was the addition of prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics, which help support t the gut microbiome claims many companies are touting. Gut  health was very prevalent at this show. Different sources of fiber, fruit-based ingredients, and fermented ingredients were displayed this year. In addition to using oat as a fiber source, many oat-based products with indulgent flavors like chocolate and coffee drinks were also showcased.

Upcycled and Sustainability, More Than Just Spent Grain

This was the most exciting sector. The upcycled trend was prominent throughout the show as many companies are becoming aware of how they impact the environment. Ocean Spray turned cranberry seeds into a flour, and demoed the upcycled flour in the form of crackers. Playing on a more indulgent twist, they also tossed some of them in cinnamon sugar for an upcycled Cinnamon Toast Crunch like snack. New fiber sources made from upcycled fruit were on display and even using fruit waste to make teriyaki jerky! This trend emphasized sustainability and combating climate change, with many industry leaders leading crucial conversations regarding reducing carbon footprint, using upcycled ingredients and sustainable packaging. Carbon footprint and sustainability measures are being highlighted on the front of packaging and catching on in the industry as we all become more aware of the importance of sustainability.

Sugar Reduction is Big Across All Categories

Using alternative sugar sources and overall sugar reduction made their debut in cookies, coffee drinks, flavored milks and more. Typical sweeteners like Erythritol, Monk Fruit and Stevia were present but other sugar sources such as beet sugar were used in more natural products. Some companies were able to reduce sugar content by using Brewer’s Yeast to emphasize indulgent notes, capitalizing on the slight saltiness to bring out sweet and smooth mouthfeel. It appears companies are ready to take sugar reduction to the next level without compromising taste and overall experience.

Flavor, Flavor, Flavor

You can’t have food without flavor! While there wasn’t one overwhelming flavor trend, there were flavors to note.


  • Chocolate: if a company was demoing a protein shake or milk type beverage, it was almost always rich milk chocolate.
  • Vanilla: many cookies, mini pies and bars highlighted diverse vanilla flavors.
  • Birthday Cake
  • Maple: this indulgent flavor is still very popular in bars and desserts.


  • Blackberry: often paired with relaxation ingredients, this berry flavor was exclusive to beverages.
  • Watermelon: refreshing for mocktails and the candylike version for energy drinks
  • Mango
  • Strawberry: used in snacks and beyond
  • Blueberry: paired with lemonade or used in bars
  • Cranberry: used as a sprinkle or whole fruit in bars to highlight the perfect balance between sweet and tart.
  • Yuzu: many refreshing beverages capitalized on this Japanese citrus fruit.
  • Pomelo: highlighted use in mocktails and functional immunity beverages.

Globally Inspired:

  • Elote: a match made with a crunchy snack mix.
  • Curry: spice blends highlighting curry made their way into plant based meat alternatives and snack mixes.
  • Spicy is still Hot: Jalapeno, Habanero, Aleppo Pepper, Harissa, Chipotle
  • Barbacoa

These trends capture the big ideas brands had to offer giving us insight of where the food and beverage are moving. Being back in person at IFT First was captivating as the industry came alive again, reminiscent of pre-Covid shows. The innovation and forward thinking demos allowed for meaningful interactions and insightful learnings. We are already waiting in anticipation for next years show and what’s next. Stay tuned!