Food packaging innovation unearthed at IFT18

Rick Lingle in Food Packaging on September 04, 2018

Four gold nuggets of packaging uncovered this summer include wireless-heated containers, ecommerce packaging lessons and advice from brands, breakthrough aseptic packaging and a nutty plastic additive.


Held mid-July at McCormick Place in Chicago, the 2018 Institute of Food Technologists' trade show served up as usual mega portions of ingredients via supplier exhibits and related technical and conference sessions. There’s also an abundance of R&D- and processing-related supplies and services.

Early in my career IFT was an annual all-hands-on-deck coverage event, but for the last two decades it’s been more of a fringe show from a packaging perspective. Even so, it’s that prospecting aspect of having a large show with scant packaging that gets my journalism juices going in walking IFT18’s foodie aisles. Or, atypically as this year, spending a sizeable chunk of the day listening to compelling presentations by industry experts and up-and-comers.

A one-day prospecting quest yielded several sizable nuggets of packaging innovation, eureka moments highlighted in this debriefing. In order, these consisted of an induction heating technology that turns the wireless charger into an anywhere food-heating device, major brands’ insights and advice on ecommerce packaging, a new kind of aseptic packaging that stands up and stands out from the competition and a surprising byproduct that adds value and performance to plastics.


Food innovators make a splash in the IFT ‘shark tank’

The day started off with an innovative bang in a 90-minute Food Disruption Challenge that featured six food company startups. It was informative and a lot of fun, and the Shark Tank-like format featured an actual Shark Tank judge as emcee, Daymond John. The large ballroom close to the McCormick's central entrance was at near capacity.

Instead of critical venture capitalist investors, the six judges comprised sharp-minded food specialists and start-up managers asking probing questions about the business model, the technology and more.

Most of the six entry-participants were sustainable related developments, including insects as food, localized vertical hydroponic farms, new products like flour and organic fertilizer from food waste, etc. All attendees like me could vote for a People’s Choice Winner of a $5,000 prize; that winner was C-Fu Foods, which offers highly sustainable, high-protein insect-based food ingredients. A representative noted that the company’s next challenge was to move beyond crickets to others among the millions of insect species. Now that's a unprecedented and perennial bumper crop of sustainable sourcing options.

The company that claimed the $25,000 (wow!) Grand Prize was Renewal Mill, "a food waste reprocessing venture that upcycles fibrous byproducts from food manufacturing into high value end-use goods."

However, one of the runner-up presenters (seen in the image above; technology shown below) pitched convenient induction-heated packaged foods, heated using a slightly modified wireless phone charger and packaging that requires a metal insert, a heat sensor and a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag.

Inductive Intelligence was THE packaging winner in my book for its breakthrough concept for on-the-go, ultra-convenient and thinking-outside-the-microwave-oven reheating. What’s especially cool is that the "smart heatable packaging" technology taps the energy readily available with the already-hot-selling wireless phone charger; some 210 million of those standard recharging bases were sold in 2017. Key points struck by IFT presenter Greg Clark, the company's co-founder and CEO:

  • It’s a safe, smart and convenient method that doesn’t require a consumer to watch the product while heating, which is precisely programmed for every internet-enabled product;
  • The method takes 30% longer, but uses 90% less energy than a microwave;
  • It adds 5 cents per unit to the cost of packaging for a range of products from popcorn to soup and formats that include paper, plastic, glass, foil pouches and metal cans.

“Bottom-up induction heating is a more consistent heating method that conventional alternatives,” Clark pointed out. “While our focus is on single-serve consumer packaging, there’s opportunities in larger sizes including meal kits, military meals and other applications.”

While the IFT “Food Innovation Challenge” experience was exciting and informative for the hundreds of us in the audience, how did Clark feel about his company’s exposure?

“The entire IFT event was a great experience for us,” he told Packaging Digest. “It opened doors to food and packaging companies, provided great mentorship and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until Daymond John gives us a call!  The event also helped us connect with people doing research in the area of heat transfer, which in time will be extremely helpful.”

For more details read our follow-up interview with Inductive Intelligence, Consumers can heat products on the go with smart packaging, published September 13.


MinnPack 2018 (October 31 – November 1, Minneapolis) is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that brings you the latest in materials, automation, packaging and more. ___________________________________________________________________________________


 Next: General Mills, Mondelēz talk ecommerce food packaging

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Renewal Mill won the Grand Prize and C-Fu won the people's choice. The article is incorrect. Please correct the article.
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