In-booth product demos allow IBIE visitors to ask questions directly of technicians.

Tradeshows — and we’ve got a big one coming right up — present many targets of opportunity these days for bakers and snack food producers. That was certainly the case at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Food Expo (IFT) in July and will be even more true of the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) 2016, set for Oct. 8-11.

As I returned home from IFT, I worked hard to digest all the new learnings experienced there. It’s always a matter of staying on top of trends in the grain-based foods industry and the larger food processing industry as well. It’s also a matter of discovering new concepts that could reshape our future. This year’s IFT was a whirlwind of non-GMO, organic, natural and clean-label ideas, ingredients and sangria. Yes, sangria, because you should have fun tasting all those samples and prototypes … even if you’re doing it first thing in the morning.

Here’s what I saw at IFT and why I think you’ll want to seek out these developments at IBIE — plus a few ideas on what to do when you get there.

Transparency — that was the top IFT theme on the ingredient side of the business. Consumers want the ingredient legend and label information to be apparent, recognizable and just plain easy to understand. Gone are the days when I explained what I do for a living by saying, “I make everything on the bread label that you don’t know what it is.”

This situation calls to mind something Albert Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

People want to understand what they are eating and where their food comes from. And if consumers don’t understand the food purchase, then they are likely to think twice about eating that product. While not everyone is a label reader, the number of people who do read labels has definitely increased. The Health and Diet Survey released in May by the Food and Drug Administration said that half of all adults read nutrition labels “always” or “most of the time.” So, if your company marketing and R&D teams are planning to ignore clean label as a fad, you will find yourself behind the times, playing catch up for quite a while into the future.

Transparency is also the reason behind the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, signed into law by President Obama on July 29. It mandates disclosure of the presence of GMO content in processed foods. Thank goodness for this national legislation. What started with a GMO labeling law in Vermont could have ended up in an enormous packaging nightmare, that would have been impossible to manage state-by-state.

The new federal law provides sensible mechanisms for conveying such information. Would you have guessed 15 years ago that your loaf of bread or box of cookies could have its own QR code for the iPhone to read and direct you to specific information? Now, such codes will be used as a labeling tool to give information concerning the presence of genetically modified organisms. This mode of communication will boost transparency for consumers who want GMO information.

To date, I have seen a couple of product labels carrying information that would have been mandatory under Vermont’s GMO labeling law. While neither was a QR code, they were easily noted by this consumer. For example, a honey bun package printed the following below its ingredient legend: “partially produced with genetic engineering.”

Another was a single-serve package of potato chips that came as part of a box lunch at an office meeting. That processor found an inventive answer to a costly solution. The message, “made with some genetically modified ingredients,” was printed as part of the date stamp on the package. Ingenious!

My guess is that this solution was far less costly than changing the printing plates for that particular product as well as all of the other SKUs in the company’s family of products and packaging sizes. This excellent approach may not necessarily have been conventional wisdom in terms of how things had been done before, but it was a simple, innovative solution to the Vermont and, now, federal GMO labeling laws.

Sugars — these were also a very hot topic at IFT this year. Recent changes in the Nutrition Facts Panel on food packaging mandate labeling of “added sugars” by quantity per serving and percentage of Daily Value. That definitely raises sugar reduction and ­sugar elimination to top-of-mind. According to a 2016 International Food Information Council survey, 61% of consumers are trying to “avoid added sugars.” This is the No. 1 hot button for consumers as they work to reduce their sugar intake.

So, what does that mean for the future of product development and new product formulations? The search for ways to make products more palatable without added sugar will become the topic of conversation in many R&D labs. The stevia plant will likely kill two birds with one stone. Because sweeteners derived from stevia are 200 times sweeter than sugar at the same concentration, a little will go a long way to enhance your products. And it may do so without increasing the “added sugars” line on your Nutrition Facts Panel.

But what other options are there to avoid adding sugar? The smart mind will come up with other solutions. For example, can you trick taste buds to make something taste sweeter than it actually is? Can you change the process to create sugar?

Another Albert Einstein quote comes to mind: “Necessity is the mother of all invention,” which I also take to mean, “Never say ‘never.’ ”

Right now, you are probably preparing to hit the floor of the largest bakery show ever assembled in America: IBIE 2016. This amazing exhibition happens every three years and will include some of the learnings from IFT and much, much more. If you do not come home from IBIE smarter, better informed and prepared to effectively manage your project list, then you did not go to the show prepared. Do you did have appointments set up with innovative companies? Are your tradeshow objectives for your company defined?

At a former job, the bakery held daily morning meetings at IBIE to discuss what we learned or saw on the show floor the day before. It was an excellent way to ensure the corporate investment to send the team to a large tradeshow was managed to the best extent. This was a problem-solving, solutions-oriented, results-driven approach. Those company meetings many years ago were the beginning of cross-functional teams.

Management, sales, operations, marketing, R&D, engineering, transportation and supply chain (and I am sure I am missing a few) were all walking the floor, looking for the next big idea or the solution to fix corporate and bakery issues and problems.

The best part of this was all those different sets of eyes. A sales person would have a different take on equipment, and an engineer might investigate an ingredient solution with a different perspective to help R&D. Getting the team out of the proverbal box was a good thing, a very good thing.

Since Albert Einstein’s insights inspired these comments, I offer two more of his quotes with direct relevance to your IBIE 2016 experience.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” And “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”