Touted as “the place where movers and advancers of the food industry come together,” the IFT Annual Event and Expo is an event many of us look forward to every year. With thousands of ingredients and exhibitors on hand to demonstrate the industry’s latest innovations and emerging trends, the event is a must for those of us who want to stay on the leading edge of the industry.
This year is going to be a new experience for everyone! In an effort to keep all exhibitors and participants safe during the Covid-19 epidemic, the IFT Board of Directors has made the decision to transition this year’s event to a “virtual experience.”
Organizers are confident there will still be a lot to look forward to. Following best practices of other virtual events, IFT organizers are excited to show what they can do. In a recent interview with Food Dive.com, IFT CEO Christie Tarantino-Dean explained, “Our membership and attendee base are innovators, right? One of the great things for working for an organization like IFT … is that we get to work for innovators, and they give us the space to innovate as well. So we’re excited to show what we can do, and work with our community to really change how we do business, and use this as an opportunity to think a little bit differently.”
Attendees will still need to pay for the conference, though the price and packages are not yet determined. (Tarantino-Dean said there were close to 2,000 attendees already registered when the event was changed to be completely virtual.) All of the presentations, sessions and awards that were scheduled will still happen. There will be networking possibilities. And, she said, there will still be a trade show floor.
While IFT acknowledges that the move to a virtual environment will pose a unique set of challenges, it also provides unique opportunities. For instance, taste testing the wonderful samples that are provided across the show floor is probably not going to be possible, so companies are looking at new and improved ways to provide samples, usage examples, and have ramped up product demos online to participants and potential customers. (Many reporst show that since the Covid-19 epidemic took hold in the US, Zoom conferences have soared as companies look to provide similar personal experiences while maintaining social distancing standards.)
Virtual booths will allow company representatives to introduce new products, provide technical information, show videos of what the product can do, and connect with participants via several technologies.
Additionally, Tarantino-Dean indicated that the symposia and sessions will be available on-demand for a longer period of time this year, making it easier for people to participate without time constraints.
The new virtual format may also prove to be easier for students attending the show, as well. Bob Roberts, head of Penn State University’s Department of Food Science, told Food Dive that about 30 to 50 students from his program go to IFT each year.
Roberts said, the virtual model is likely going to be easier on students than most other groups who attend IFT. Today’s college students are accustomed to virtual learning. Most are doing it now, since the coronavirus pandemic has closed most universities for the remainder of the spring semester.
An added bonus is that it’s also much easier on students’ bank accounts. While there will still be a fee to attend, nobody will have to travel or pay for room and board.
Details of the virtual format are still developing. IFT has created a webpage for participants and exhibitors to get answers to their questions, watch IFT President Pam Coleman’s update on the decision to move to a virtual environment, and subscribe to updates as the become available. Visit the page here.
Read the Food Dive article here.