Promise Versus Proof: The Food Industry Conflict

The IFT19 Annual Meeting and Expo in New Orleans was another great show – lots of terrific technical sessions, what seemed like miles of exhibitors, not to mention the plethora of activities outside the expo. I’ve been attending IFT for years (ok, decades) and this year I had a realization.

The conflict in the food industry isn’t man versus nature. Rather, the conflict is promise versus proof.

I understood this when a friend approached our booth and exclaimed ‘I can’t find a single real meatball here!’ The Expo was filled with examples of the promise of meatballs. These meatballs, however, were made with plant proteins and were reminiscent – at best – of what you get at a good Philly restaurant. But they weren’t quite what you expect from a good meatball.

As food scientists and process engineers we know how to make almost anything the consumer might want. And we know how to make many more products the consumer probably doesn’t want! Point being, we’re scientists and we can make food look and taste like itself or something totally different. Granted new ingredients and product categories might not happen overnight. However, we know that by working through the value chain – from crop to ingredient to food product – we can deliver a delightful product to the consumer.

Susan Mayer at IFT

Creating new food products isn’t Franken science.

Rather, creating new food products is about making the stevia leaves able to sweeten foods or about processing sweet potatoes so they are a shelf-stable puree that tastes freshly roasted. One of our newer industry challenges is about shifting with consumer desires towards more plant-based options but still providing foods that remind the consumer of cheese, or milk.

Or meatballs.  That’s what started me on this Ah Ha! Moment.

If like me, you split your time at IFT19 between the technical sessions and the Expo floor, we’re feeding two sides of our brain.  You’ll accept the information in technical sessions as truth if there’s scientific proof, valid studies, credible expert observations, etc.

But what about the Expo?

Strolling the aisles upon aisles of ingredients, services, and equipment there’s a sense that the information is different and so is the audience’s response.  At the Expo, it’s the promise of certain flavors or food experiences that are compelling.  Do you go to poster sessions on isolating plant proteins and expect a sample served on a toasted bun and slathered with mildly spicy guacamole?  No. At the same time, you don’t go to the expo vendors expecting controlled yield and sensory studies in triplicate either.  Not surprisingly these two realities under one roof is an obvious dichotomy for those in the food industry who have one foot in the lab and one in the grocery store aisle.  John Coupland, Ph.D., a professor of food science, noticed the promise versus proof as well, tweeting during IFT19 that ‘a lot of the new product demonstrations would benefit from a control group.’

Our food industry clients often face a similar dilemma as part of their innovation journey – to deliver promise or proof? Whether you want to understand what consumers believe about your product (is it ‘refreshing’ or ‘indulging’?) or if you’re making a defensible claim (‘less sugar’, ‘more relaxing’, or ‘efficacious’), we can help you learn more about both proof and promise.

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About the authors

Lawrence Blume, Ph.D. is passionate about collaborative partnerships that bring innovative solutions to challenging research and development roadblocks. A lead advisor for our food science and biotechnology innovation, Lawrence brings extensive experience leading technology-focused opportunity forecasts in support of competitive advantage, product differentiation, and commercialization strategies for C-level executives at companies ranging from early startups to Fortune 500s. Over the last decade, Dr. Blume has applied his background in cannabis physiology and pharmacology towards novel commercial applications in the medical, CPG, and food and beverage spaces. He received a Ph.D. in Physiology & Pharmacology from Wake Forest School of Medicine and a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Biochemistry from Duquesne University.
Susan Mayer is our technical food industry leader, with great problem-solving, strategic, and communication skills. Our clients rely on her experience in product development, product lifecycle management, and public-private food industry partnerships to understand how technology, research, and the right suppliers can create innovation opportunities. How does her work with us benefit food companies? Susan believes that our human-centered design perspective makes all the difference. ‘Product developers always believe they are thinking about the consumer, but our human-centered design approach to considering technology brings an entirely different perspective.’ Susan applies her love of food science to her hobbies; she and her husband formulate and brew beer, much to the delight of their friends and neighbors. Susan has an M.S. in Food Science and a B.S. in Foods from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is a Certified Food Scientist.

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