With most in-person events still on pause due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Institute for Food Technologists’ (IFT) annual meeting and food expo will yet again be virtual for 2021. However, the event won’t lack opportunities to connect with other food-industry professionals and learn about innovations in the field. 

The Chicago-based organization built a three-day artificial-intelligence-enabled digital experience, called FIRST (food improved by research, science, and technology), that will take place July 19-21, 2021. FIRST will provide an interactive, solutions-oriented experience that brings together global communities to solve food-centric challenges and spark innovation to benefit the global population, IFT says.

According to IFT, chef, television personality, and author Carla Hall will serve as host for the three-day event. Keynote speakers will include Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, founder, and CEO of Food Systems for the Future, and Lisa Dyson, Ph.D., founder, and CEO of Air Protein. Claire Schlemme, founder and CEO of Renewal Mill and winner of IFT’s inaugural IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge pitch event, will host this year’s pitch event.

“Since the IFT annual event and food expo began more than 80 years ago, the world has evolved significantly, revealing new challenges and opportunities that must be solved by bringing global voices together,” says IFT CEO Christie Tarantino-Dean. “FIRST is a new digital experience designed to be an interactive hub where global experts, entrepreneurs, and solution providers will connect to advance research, science, and technology and improve food quality, commerce, and sustainability for generations to come.” 

New offerings

New this year, FIRST will feature a robust matchmaking program called FIRST Solution Exchange, which will offer customized supplier recommendations, curate one-on-one meetings, and feature interactive showrooms. Extending this experience will be Solution Suites — a comprehensive virtual marketplace where participants may peruse supplier showrooms to learn and engage with experts about the latest products and services, IFT says.

According to the organization, other key aspects of the digital experience include:

    A curated scientific program. The scientific programming will focus on answering the question: “Zero Hunger: Will we get there?” Sessions will feature the latest insights, research, and industry solutions aimed at addressing the global hunger crisis.

    Supplier showcases: Attendees will gain insights into emerging trends, access valuable business resources, and make strategic connections through interactive and on-demand presentations and showcases from suppliers — all designed to further career and business opportunities.

    Startup Central. Innovative startup companies from around the globe will showcase their products and services as part of Startup Central. Programming and networking opportunities will also be offered for anyone interested in furthering their food science and business acumen and expanding their professional ecosystem.

Additional details about FIRST will be shared across IFT channels. The latest information can be found on iftevent.org.