IFT FIRST’s Innovation Lab promises a ‘real world product development experience’

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags IFT First Innovation New product development

Attendees at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology (IFT FIRST) conference this month won’t have to wait until they return home to apply what they learn in the hundreds of academic sessions or see on the expo floor thanks to an interactive, real-world product development experience on the last of the four-day event.

For the second year, IFT FIRST will host a “choose-your-own-adventure” style Innovation Lab on Wednesday July 19 where attendees can apply the scientific research they learn about in sessions and from poster presentations to develop and potentially prototype of product that addresses at least one of five main “crises” facing consumers today.

“The Innovation Lab is meant to take an attendees through the product development process, and using the science that is presented at our event, using the people and the subject matter experts that are there and really trying to spark new thinking, new ideas, better connections and ultimately helping to send people home with really great ideas to advance the science of food, which is obviously what we are all about,”​ Jay Gilbert, director of scientific programs & career pathways at IFT, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Bridging the science and academic research with the innovations on the show floor

He explained the inspiration for the event came from IFT members and conference attendees who were looking for a way to bridge the scientific and academic research presented at IFT FIRST and the experience on the expo floor.

“Our IFT First even is not only a B2B expo. We have the scientific program that is extremely robust. We have tons of posters, tons of science that is presented, and so the Innovation Lab is meant to kind of capitalize on both of those to bring it into a single experience so that our event does not seem like two separate components,”​ he said.

“We with a thin mind, we really tried to structure the Innovation Lab as a real world product development experience, where anyone within the science of food”​ can experience the product development process, he added.

He explained that attendees who want the full Innovation Lab experience will receive a step-by-step guide when they arrive and will select a consumer for whom they can develop a product or idea.

“You’ll learn about the day-to-day life of that consumer, including what are the challenges and pain points that they’re facing, and then really trying to focus in on what our theme is, which is innovation in a time of crisis and future-proofing the food system, … attendees will focus on how five different crises are impacting their consumer,”​ he explained.

Solving the most pressing crises facing the food industry today

The crises include consumer trust, digital transformation, food safety, health & nutrition and sustainability & climate. Each will be viewed through the past, present and future.

“There will be some discussion prompts within the booklet itself to help them think a little bit more about what solutions should I be providing for my consumer,”​ he added.

From there, participants will learn about the science presented at the show that relate to the different crises to create a concrete solutions that could be prototyped by graphic artists at the show who will sketch out the concept or through an AI text to image generator, he added.

‘Two pathways in the Innovation Lab’

Gilbert encourages teams attending the show to experience the Innovation Lab together, but he also recognizes at a show as massive and packed as IFT FIRST not everyone will have time to go through the full experience. As such, the Innovation Lab was also developed in a way that allows people to “pop in” for a few minutes and explore one or two of the crises hubs.

“There are two pathways in the Innovation Lab. One is the adventure and using the booklet to go from start to finish in a step-by-step fashion, which can take 60 to 90 minutes depending on how much you stop and talk to colleagues,”​ he said.

“But a lot of people will be ‘curious travelers” who may pop in for five minutes and see part of it and then go about their day, and that is okay because they will still gather insights and information,”​ he added.

With the Innovation Lab in its second year, Gilbert said the team at IFT FIRST is excited to see more attendees experience the innovation adventure.

He explained: “Last year, when we introduced the Innovation Lab, we learned that people really did like to have an overall encompassing experience that provides different sparks of ideas, new types of learning .. and opportunity to really bridge everything IFT FIRST has to offer with this kind of museum experience that allows them to connect with people they may not normally connect with in different ways.”

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