NEW ORLEANS — It would be an insult to the military to equate Food Business News’ efforts at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food exposition to a military expedition, but it was an expedition, nonetheless. We spent three days in New Orleans, blocked our schedules into 30 minute increments and tried to speak to as many people as possible. Our goal was simple — to understand what is happening in food and beverage product development.

This newsletter is a result of those efforts, and this article contains additional thoughts on the conversations we had and the education sessions we covered. To those who took the time to visit with us and share your thoughts in New Orleans — thank you. To those whom we did not meet with, let’s plan on connecting in Chicago in 2015, or sooner digitally via LinkedIn, Twitter (FoodBizNews or NewFoodAisle) or on Facebook at Food Business News.

And now, without any further ado, on to the main event:

Keith Nunes, Executive Editor

Two additional trends stood out this year in New Orleans. The first revolved around sustained energy, weight management and, more specifically, blood glucose or blood sugar management. Several ingredient manufacturers were offering ingredients that may aid in managing blood sugar levels throughout the day, and it is clear the energy trend may be further evolving.

While certain segments of the population may want the “rush” that comes from most energy beverages or foods, there is another segment of the population that simply does not want to feel tired during portions of the day. It is interesting to see ingredient manufacturers working on solutions in this area, because it is a complex part of the market that involves a number of variables that must mesh in order to be effective. The key here is weight management. If sustained energy can convincingly be combined with maintaining a healthy weight, this is a trend that may have legs.

Second, clean label is no longer a trend – it is a phenomenon. I can’t think of a single supplier I met with that did not have an angle for why an ingredient or solution they were offering did not fall under the halo of natural or clean label. The rapid pace of the food and beverage marketplace is forcing manufacturers to respond to consumer concerns quickly. Industry suppliers have correctly surmised they must keep pace as well and their efforts were in abundance at I.F.T.

Jeff Gelski, Associate Editor

Cargill had one of the most ambitious ingredient launches at I.F.T. The company introduced identity-preserved soybeans for its customers that want to explore making a non-G.M.O. claim on their product labels. Considering that 93% of all soybeans planted in the United States in 2013 were bioengineered varieties, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, finding and segregating non-bioengineered soybeans will take some effort.

Cargill will seek farmers in Iowa and Illinois who have the ability and willingness to segregate non-bioengineered soybeans. Cargill has dedicated storage and transportation for the non-G.M.O. product. SGS, an inspection, verification, testing and certification company that has a North American office in Rutherford, N.J., will certify the process.

Such an undertaking should mean food and beverage products with the non-bioengineered soybeans will require a higher price.

Seeing stevia ingredients at I.F.T. was nothing new, but stevia suppliers had news about their product lines.

PureCircle talked about its approach to customized stevia-based sweetener applications. While in years past stevia suppliers promoted the Rebaudioside A content of their ingredients, PureCircle is exploring other steviol glycosides besides Reb A. Combining different steviol glycosides in an ingredient may produce different taste profiles, leading to a more customized approach, according to PureCircle.

Tate & Lyle presented research showing 63% of consumers preferred its Tasteva stevia sweetener over Rebaudioside A.  Sweet Green Fields, L.L.C. launched its Natrose natural flavor that may enhance sweeteners, including stevia, monk fruit and sugar.                                                                  

The locale of I.F.T. gave exhibitors the opportunity to tap into New Orleans-style cuisine. Such a strategy allowed Kikkoman to demonstrate how soy sauce may provide flavor in more than just Asian dishes. The company’s less sodium soy sauce was used in a vegetable gumbo and in a Louisiana-style remoulade.

Tate & Lyle featured its Promitor soluble corn fiber in a roasted red pepper gazpacho with corn bread. Archer Daniels Midland Co. used corn oil, corn meal and Kansas Diamond white whole wheat flour to create hush puppies. Each day a different sauce — creamy feta cilantro pesto, horseradish aioli and roasted red pepper remoulade — was paired with the hush puppies.

Monica Watrous, Internet Editor

Health claims on new food and beverage products reflect increasing complexities in the American diet, as consumers seek to avoid dairy, gluten, artificial ingredients and the like. Ingredient innovations and research presented at the I.F.T. addressed the booming “free-from” movement, as well as its implications.

Sugar scrutiny, for one, is nothing new. Nearly a third of U.S. consumers said they have decreased their sugar intake in the past two years, according to Innova Market Insights, and new guidance from the World Health Organization recommends a further reduction in the sweet stuff to a limit of six tablespoons per day. No-sugar-added claims are surging, said Innova, and among them, “fructose-free” claims are gaining momentum, addressing a growing incidence of fructose malabsorption. While few, products with a “fructose-friendly” claim have started to appear in the Australian market and are expected to grow.

Other emerging health claims point to a shift in energy sources. Energy claims are by no means lagging, up 18% in global product launches last year, according to Innova. However, consumers may be looking for a more sustained approach to energy rather than a quick fix. While caffeine remains the top claim for products associated with energy and alertness, included as a top ingredient in 57% of global product launches with such a positioning in 2013, new research from Mintel suggests protein may be the new pick-me-up.

“It feels to us the way forward is the whole idea of a slow energy release as opposed to a quick hit from a simple energy drink,” said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight, Mintel, during a session at the show.

Consumers are drawn to messages of satiety and hunger management linked to protein and fiber, as well as the steady supply of energy they provide.

As part of the protein trend, nuts are cracking new categories in the market, feeding into trends of snacking, flexitarian diets, and dairy alternatives. Half of U.S. consumers eat nuts at least once a week, with nearly a third having increased their consumption in the past two years, according to Innova Market Insights. Global launches containing almonds have risen steadily over the past three years, recently appearing in such innovative applications as Coco Libre Protein Coconut Water, Parmela Parmesan Style Aged Nut Cheese, and So Delicious Dairy Free frozen dessert made with almond milk. Almonds also are leading the dairy alternative market, now representing more than 55% of the U.S. plant-based milk industry market once dominated by soy, which has sunk to 35% of sales.

Donna Berry, Contributing Editor

My first I.F.T. was as a food science student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The expo took place in Chicago, my hometown. I collected every sample, trinket and give-away at the show, and had the time of my life. I still enjoy the show every year, but now I work much harder and try to get a handle on where ingredient suppliers think the food and beverage industry may be going. Here’s my take on this year’s exhibition in the Big Easy.

To address concerns many formulators have regarding anticipated revisions to the Nutrition Facts Panel, numerous suppliers showcased ingredients to keep “added sugars” negligible. At the same time, many defended their isolated fiber ingredients as proven fiber sources that will meet the F.D.A.’s proposed definition for fiber. In some cases, the sugar alternative and the fiber ingredient were one in the same. Many fiber ingredients were also shown to assist with gluten-free formulating.

For example, Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J., served New Orleans-style crepes, which just happened to also be gluten free. They were filled with no-sugar-added caramel, chocolate or fruit variegate. All were formulated to be a good source of fiber through the use of chicory root fiber, a non-digestible carbohydrate.

Tate & Lyle, Hoffman Estates, Ill., also keeping the theme of French Quarter dining, showcased its newly introduced beta glucan oat fiber in an iced mocha café au lait with whipped coconut water topping. Delivering up to 35% beta glucan, the fiber ingredient is backed by substantial research showing it may help support a healthy cholesterol level for individuals with cholesterol within the normal range. The company also featured its soluble corn fiber in a roasted red pepper gazpacho with cornbread.

Addressing excessive sugar intake, the Tate & Lyle quenched attendees thirst with stevia-sweetened blood orange sangria. The formulation allowed for a more than 50% sugar reduction and 70% fewer calories compared to a full-sugar version.

In addition to addressing anticipated Nutrition Facts changes, Ingredion Inc., which conducted in-depth research earlier in the year regarding the top trends driving food industry growth, presented prototypes that address the five trends they narrowed their research to. They are: authenticity, back to basics, better-for-you snacking, global variety and holistic health. Each of these trends included fiber fortification, calorie reduction, gluten elimination, and in some instances, another trend that I thought would have been more dominant at the expo: plant protein fortification.

There’s no denying protein-enhanced foods were big at the expo, but I anticipated plant proteins would have had a more prominent role in the show. That was not the case. (I was told because it’s challenging!) Dairy proteins, either going solo, or in combination with plant proteins, were often the base of for prototypes.

Recognizing the need for more aggressive plant protein product development to help satisfy the world’s craving for this muscle-building and satiety-providing macronutrient, Ingredion announced at the show its recent agreement to be the distributor of pulse flours, protein and bran ingredients for Saskatchewan, Canada-based Alliance Grain Traders Inc.

All in all, this was a fabulous I.F.T. Suppliers showed how ingredient technology has progressed to help the industry move forward with feeding the world, while at the same time addressing health and wellness.

Now, if only the airline industry could take a few steps forward, instead the many back they seem to take more often than not. For instance, it took me 48 hours to get home from I.F.T. Planes, trains and automobiles…oh my!