IFT FIRST: 2023 Trends

The Trilogy Flavors team attended IFT First on July 17th and 18th in Chicago, IL. Read about the top 5 trends we observed and tasted in the article below. 

Trend # 1: Plant-Based – Mimicking or Not 

There was an overwhelming emphasis on plant-based products, showcasing the growing popularity of this food category among consumers worldwide. According to Mintel, 36% of consumers opt for plant-based, animal-free alternatives. We observed two distinct approaches companies are taking to cater to the demands of this expanding market.

The first approach is to create plant-based products that mimic the look, taste, and texture of their animal-based counterparts. This approach primarily applies to plant-based meat products.  These companies strive to create alternatives that closely mimic animal meat to appeal to both vegetarians and flexitarians alike. Consumer preference surveys showed that an impressive 68% of respondents expressed a strong liking for plant-based products that could imitate real animal meat effectively. When dining out, 32% of consumers who identify as vegan or vegetarian opt for plant-based meat altenatives.

The second approach  embraces the genuine essence of plant-based foods by creating minimally processed products. Instead of replicating meat products, these products seek to enhance the unique flavors and nutritional qualities found naturally in plant-based ingredients such as nuts, beans, and vegetables. These companies aim to appeal to health-conscious consumers who prefer less processed food choices. This deviation in strategies indicates the evolving plant-based market. While some consumers are more willing to try plant-based alternatives that closely resemble their animal-based counterparts, they are often left disappointed in the taste and texture. At the same time, there is an equally significant consumer base seeking less processed and more authentically plant-based options, focusing on the inherent goodness and sustainability of plant-derived ingredients.

We look forward to closely monitoring the plant-based market as it continues to evolve.

Trend 2: Going Without – Low Sugar and Sodium

One of the prominent trends that captured attendees’ attention was the numerous samples presented with significantly reduced sugar content. The food industry’s response to consumer concerns about excessive sugar consumption was evident. Many companies showcased innovative products that incorporated alternative sweeteners such as monk fruit or stevia. These natural sweeteners served as viable replacements for traditional sugar, enabling manufacturers to reduce sugar content without compromising on taste.

Low-sugar options have been steadily growing, driven by increasing awareness among consumers about health risks associated with high sugar intake. As people become more health-conscious and seek to manage their sugar intake, food manufacturers have been compelled to adapt their offerings to cater to these evolving preferences.

Innova Market Insights further emphasized the importance of addressing consumer preferences for healthier options. The survey revealed that 41% of US consumers perceived “light” or reduced-sugar versions of products as being healthier. This finding emphasized the critical role marketing and labeling play in shaping consumer perceptions and purchase decisions. Brands that capitalize on this perception can effectively tap into the growing market of health-conscious consumers actively seeking reduced sugar products.

Moreover, it wasn’t just sugar reduction that caught visitors’ attention. Reduced sodium claims were also featured prominently, particularly in the snack, processed meats, and cheese categories. As health organizations and consumers alike raised concerns about excessive sodium consumption and its potential impact on cardiovascular health, food companies demonstrated their commitment to addressing this issue.

By prominently displaying reduced sodium claims, manufacturers aimed to showcase their efforts in formulating healthier products without compromising taste. The emphasis on healthier snacks, processed meats, and cheeses indicated a broader industry trend toward reimagining traditional indulgent foods in a more health-conscious manner.

Trend 3: Functional Ingredients – Vitamins

A significant focus at IFT was placed on showcasing products that highlighted functional ingredients known for their various health benefits. This was done with a particular emphasis on immunity and recovery-related properties. Throughout the expo, natural botanicals such as matcha and turmeric held prominent positions in numerous exhibits, drawing attention to their potential contributions to overall well-being.

The inclusion of these natural botanicals in a wide range of food and beverage products demonstrates the industry’s growing recognition of their healthy properties and consumer demand for functional and nutritious options. Matcha, celebrated for its antioxidant properties, and turmeric, revered for its anti-inflammatory effects, were notably leveraged in diverse applications to deliver flavor and potential health benefits to consumers.

Additionally, additives like Vitamin C, as well as pro and prebiotics, received substantial attention and presence at the event. The interest in Vitamin C stems from its widely acknowledged role in supporting immune function, making it a sought-after component in products aimed at bolstering immunity. Similarly, pro and prebiotics have garnered significant interest due to their impact on gut health and the increasing awareness of the gut-brain connection and overall well-being.

The emphasis on these active ingredients demonstrated the industry’s commitment to catering to consumer health and wellness focus. By featuring products enriched with such functional components, companies showcased their dedication to offering consumers options that align with their desire for both taste and health consciousness.

Trend 4:  Protein – Beyond a Shake

At IFT FIRST, it was evident that the landscape of protein offerings is undergoing a transformative shift, breaking free from the confines of traditional chalky and thick milkshakes. Many companies seized the opportunity to showcase protein in a myriad of exciting forms, with one noteworthy innovation being protein waters. This unique approach expands flavor choices beyond just indulgence, introducing a array of refreshing and fruity options that appeal to health-conscious consumers seeking a lighter and more hydrating alternative.

Despite the growing popularity of plant-based diets and the increasing demand for plant-based protein options, a interesting observation emerged at the event. Plant-based proteins lag behind animal-derived products in fully capitalizing on their protein content. Innova Market Insights data revealed that while only 8.2% of dairy yogurts and drinks emphasized their protein content, this figure dips to 4.6% for non-dairy drinks and yogurts.

Companies and manufacturers operating in the plant-based protein space are encouraged to explore innovative ways to effectively communicate their protein content to consumers. By doing so, they can better position themselves in a competitive market where health-conscious consumers seek nutritious and protein-packed alternatives to traditional dairy products.

Trend 5:  Focus on the Future – Sustainability through Science

Sustainability emerged as the overarching theme in numerous keynote sessions at IFT FIRST. The global impact of food production and consumption on the environment has escalated into a pressing concern, throwing the food industry into action to seek transformative solutions. The responsibility to address these challenges is compelling companies to embark on a journey of innovation to pioneer sustainable practices within their own market. Leveraging cutting-edge technology and scientific advancements, they are at the forefront of driving positive change. These advancements empower companies to adopt more eco-conscious approaches, reducing their environmental footprint, and promoting responsible sourcing and production methods.

However, sustainability is not merely an industry-driven endeavor; it has become a significant factor in consumers’ decision-making processes. People are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact of their food choices, and they are increasingly opting for products that align with their values. According to insights from Innova Market, an overwhelming 69% of consumers actively seek products that highlight sustainable farming practices directly on the packaging. Consumer-driven demand for sustainability has become a powerful driver for companies to prioritize eco-friendly practices and transparently communicate these efforts to their audience.

A particular spotlight falls on younger consumers, especially Generation Z, who have emerged as key advocates for sustainability and brand activism. An astonishing 1 in 3 Gen Z individuals stated their willingness to use social media as a platform to vocalize their concerns and opinions about products that do not align with their values, according to Mintel. This unprecedented level of consumer engagement demonstrates how deeply ingrained sustainability has become in the consciousness of younger generations. Companies recognize that catering to the values and expectations of this influential demographic is not just a matter of corporate social responsibility but also a strategic imperative for long-term success.


The 2023 IFT FIRST Event and Expo showcased a dynamic and evolving food industry that is actively responding to changing consumer demands and global concerns. Plant-based products emerged as a prominent focus, with companies adopting two distinct approaches – one mimicking real meat products and the other embracing the genuine essence of plant-based foods. The emphasis on reduced sugar and sodium offerings demonstrated the industry’s commitment to providing healthier options without compromising on taste. Additionally, the spotlight on functional ingredients like matcha, turmeric, Vitamin C, and probiotics highlighted the growing recognition of consumers’ desire for products that promote overall well-being. Moreover, the innovative transformation of protein offerings beyond traditional milkshakes and the rise of sustainability as a dominant theme underscored the industry’s determination to address environmental challenges using technology and science. The expo also showcased the power of consumer activism, with a strong demand for sustainable and eco-conscious products, especially among younger generations. As the food industry continues to innovate and align with sustainability goals, it is evident that consumers’ preferences and values will continue to drive positive changes in the global food landscape.

Trilogy Flavors, Inc.