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Joining the Conversation—Telling the Food Science Story

For many years now, the food science community has struggled with how to tell the food science story in the age of increasingly skeptical consumers. With the growth of pseudoscience “experts” and opinion-driven advocates like the Food Babe, food scientists have often felt bewildered about how to bring a rational, science-based voice to the conversation. Even worse, they often feel left out of the conversation entirely and without the tools or skills that they need to join the conversation with the informed view that sound food science can offer.

The struggle to tell the food science story has been an ongoing theme throughout the food industry and a major topic of conversation among food trade associations, as well as at national and international food conferences. But at this year’s annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in Chicago, the conversation took a major step forward as several keynote speakers and featured panel discussion sessions took the topic head-on and started to offer food scientists the strategies and the tactics they need to start using their storytelling skills to effectively deliver the food science message.

During the IFT Leadership Summit, one of the featured speakers was Trevor Butterworth, a co-founder of the non-profit, non-partisan Sense about Science organization. His presentation on “Effective Science Communication” provided practical tips and real-world examples of how food scientists can effectively engage with the mainstream media to tell their story. He emphasized transparency, authenticity and presenting science in simple, easy to understand stories. He also urged spokespeople to “know your audience” and engage with them in conversations instead of attacking them for their lack of scientific literacy. The Sense about Science group has even published “A Media Guide for Scientists” with practical advice on dealing with journalists before, during and after a media interview.

A featured panel discussion during the IFT16 scientific sessions focused on “Food Trends vs. Food Fads.” The IFT_07558_InsideImageindustry experts on the panel all agreed that the food-science community needs to do a better job of presenting the food-science story to consumers. The panel discussed the explosive growth in social media and the need for food scientists to participate in the “two-way conversation” regarding processed food and functional ingredients necessary in delivering a safe, nutritious and abundant food supply, especially in the area of clean labels and simple ingredients. Food Business News reported on the panel in a feature story on “The complicated reality of simple ingredients.”

Also at IFT16, a keynote address from Bev Postma, an international food policy specialist, drew a standing room only crowd.  Titled “Taming Dragons in the Age of Pseudoscience,” Ms. Postma’s presentation focused on how to engage the pseudoscientists and the opinion-driven advocates in meaningful conversations to help tell the food-science story. She offered several direct ideas to food scientists to help build an emotional connection during those conversations including:
1.    Enter every conversation assuming there is something to learn.
2.    Express empathy and genuinely seek to understand the other side’s positions.
3.    Listen with the intent of building mutual understanding.

As Ms. Postma pointed out, once an emotional connection is made, scientists can steer the conversation to the many ways that science and technology can benefit consumers and their food supply.

By far the most important new development at IFT16 was the increased willingness of the food-science community to join in the ongoing conversation and become more proactive in telling the food-science story. Expect to see more activity and media coverage as more food scientists and their spokespeople get involved in talking about all of the important and necessary benefits that food science brings to our rapidly growing world.

Customer Engagement at IFT16

Food ingredient marketers know what it takes to have a successful trade show exhibit. Strong branding, the right messaging, customer engagement tactics, a well-designed booth space and a knowledgeable team are all essential to make a company’s trade show presence a successful one. And the best gauge of how well all these pieces are working together is by witnessing them “in action” at a trade show; seeing how engaged attendees are with a company’s booth space and team.

At the IFT16 Expo in Chicago, I walked the floor and observed the world’s top food ingredient companies and their trade show teams in action. I saw how industry trends are affecting the design of the booths and their graphics, as companies strive to show how their products align with the demands of a new generation of consumers. I also saw some very effective strategies to help exhibitors increase engagement with customers and attendees.

White Space, Bright Colors
The combination of vibrant colors and simple imagery on clean, white backgrounds was something I saw everywhere. This graphic style was clearly influenced by the clean-label movement as companies continue to move toward simpler and better-for-you ingredients. It gave many of the booth designs a clean, modern look and was the perfect graphic solution to convey the purity and transparency consumers are seeking. These shots show just how much this look permeated through many of the designs this year.

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Natural Colors
Likewise, the ongoing movement toward more natural color sources had an impact on the messaging and tactics of several of the booths this year. Land O’Lakes Ingredients sampled cheese powders made without FD&C colors and featured a daily presentation about the history of coloring foods. I also saw several color houses creatively communicating the natural sources of their products through their messaging and graphics. GNT and DDW both had great examples of this with creative expressions that made me take a second look.

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Open Spaces
The last few years, there’s been a substantial move toward more open trade show spaces and floor plans, with companies utilizing all sides of their area for customer engagement. Without “big walls” blocking off entire sides of a booth, a trade show team can have its people on all sides to initiate customer engagement or offer product samples. Corbion did a great job of this with an open floor plan that clearly defined their area and allowed attendees to easily scan across it to absorb everything that was going on. Its team was positioned throughout the space to engage with customers from all sides, and it generated a lot of attention.

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Going Outside the Box for Engagement
Something that made an impression on me was how aggressively some companies went to initiate customer engagement. Kerry and Mintel were among the exhibitors that not only had several team members working within their booths, but also had additional members stationed in the aisles nearby to approach curious attendees and make the first move. It was an effective way of removing those invisible boundaries that always seem to separate the attendees from the exhibitors and help start the conversation with customers.

Hats off to IFT for another impressive expo and to all the volunteers who, year after year, make this event so successful and so beneficial to professionals and students throughout the food ingredient industry.

What kind of overall impressions did you get from IFT16?

An Active Voice in Food Ingredients

The Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo is quickly approaching and this year’s event looks to provide a lot of opportunity for those in attendance as more than 1,000 exhibitors and 23,000 professionals from all over the world gather in Chicago. One of the largest food ingredient trade shows of the year, IFT gathers the most prominent names in the industry in one place and offers more than 100 breakout sessions that address and discuss the challenges impacting today’s ever-changing environment.

In the video below, Anderson Partners Food Ingredient Marketing president, Mark Hughes, discusses our involvement in trade associations like IFT, how our involvement keeps us informed of everything affecting the food ingredient industry and how that knowledge impacts the work we deliver to our clients.


Attending IFT this year and want to learn how we can help your company’s marketing communication goals? Click here to schedule a meeting with our team at the show.

2016 Food & Beverage Industry Trade Show Map

With the start of a new year, comes another round of trade shows and conferences for the food and beverage industry. As a handy reference tool, we’ve created a map that plots out the locations as well as a calendar with quick facts of several of 2016’s most prominent events. Our team will be attending several of these trade shows throughout the year—sharing trends and insights on our blog that we’re seeing from the companies exhibiting and sponsoring events. Let us know which trade shows you’re attending this year and maybe we’ll see you there!

2016 U.S. Food and Beverage Industry Calendar of Major Trade Show Events

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