KANSAS CITY — Plant-based ruled at IFT FIRST, the recently held international food ingredient show in Chicago. Even ingredient suppliers for making baked foods and snacks promoted their new product concepts as plant-based, presumably because they didn’t contain eggs, dairy or lard. Many of these prototypes weren’t geared exclusively toward vegans or vegetarians, but to the broader base of flexitarians who are reducing the amount of meat and dairy they consume either for their health or for eco-friendly reasons.

Studies have shown that vegetarian diets require less energy for food production and fewer greenhouse gas emissions than diets that include meat. Healthy aging also gained in prominence with more products targeting Gen-Xers and baby boomers. And, of course, protein and reduced-sugar samples could be found in almost every aisle on the show floor. However, there was also a more utilitarian focus to IFT FIRST, with ingredient companies highlighting their “problem solving” solutions for bakers instead of just “new ingredients.”

With rising commodity prices, another focus included extending shelf life as well as more affordable ingredient alternatives to address the myriad supply chain shortages that the food industry is facing. Many exhibitors also suggested how their sustainability initiatives can dovetail into their customers’ corporate responsibility programs.

Overall, however, plant-based ingredients were all the rage, mainly because of their popularity among millennials and Gen Z consumers. One exhibitor even noted that her teen-aged daughter told her recently that she will only eat “plant-based butter.” That prompted her to reply, “When I was her age, we used to call that margarine.” What’s old often becomes new again.