Dispatches from IFT FIRST: Workforce, Innovation, and More

IFT FIRST kicked off Sunday both in Chicago and online. The food science and innovation show features extensive programming aimed at understanding and tackling the food industries biggest problems, from consumer trends to product development and food safety.

Food Industry Executive is attending IFT FIRST both in person and virtually. This post will be updated with new content throughout the show.

Workforce – Retention, culture, and DEI

Remote work is here to stay, and food companies need to find ways to offer the flexibility that employees want.

Aptean Food and Beverage Symposium

That was the key takeaway from part 1 of a two-part session on the “State of the Profession.” Part 1 was moderated by Mary Ellen Kuhn, executive editor of Food Technology magazine and featured panelists Moira McGrath, president of food science executive search firm OPUS International; Angela Dodd, founder of Females in Food; and Henry Artalejo, senior vice president of global HR at Griffith Foods.

The panelists discussed the expectations of workers today and what companies need to do to meet them. The bottom line is that the old paradigms no longer apply. “Employer value propositions from the past are no longer important,” Artalejo said. “[Companies are] challenged to figure out how to reimagine themselves.” This includes continuing remote or hybrid work, focusing on the company culture, and taking a holistic approach to benefits as well as employees’ personal and professional development.

They also discussed results from IFT’s 2022 Compensation and Career Path Survey, which will be released this fall. The results showed the median salary for women in food science is 70% of the median for men, and also the median salary for Black employees is 91% of the median for white employees. In addition, one-quarter of the respondents said they had pursued a job change in the last 24 months.

In terms of pay parity, McGrath said that when it comes to negotiating salaries, women often don’t ask for more money. Instead, they wait for their accomplishments to be recognized. Dodd said that employers need to hold themselves accountable for parity by performing internal audits.

McGrath also noted that compensation is not usually the top reason people change jobs. It may be a reason, but factors like leadership opportunities and taking on new challenges are often more important. Artalejo stressed the importance of trust and listening to what employees really want from their jobs.

Industry Report - Software Trends 2022

Listening was also a key theme in part 2 of the session, which focused on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Part 2 was moderated by Kate Dockins, IFT’s senior vice president of membership experiences and featured Carla Kupe, whose roles include CEO of The Impact Alliance and Gender & Racial Equity Program Director at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago; Kristin Anderson, vice chair of European Women on Boards; and Sherry Dublin vice president of DEI, Communications, and Talent Acquisition CoE at Ingredion.

The panelists noted that when it comes to DEI, “inclusion” is the most important part because it’s the action. “Diversity is a fact,” because everyone is different, Anderson said, “but inclusivity is a choice.” Making that choice has real bottom-line implications for businesses – Anderson cited research showing a 50% loss in productivity when someone has to spend time covering up an aspect of themselves.

To succeed with DEI, companies need to tackle it like they would any other business priority. That includes gathering data, developing a strategy, setting goals, and being accountable for deliverables. The panel’s recommendations included asking questions about authenticity, well-being, and belonging in employee engagement surveys, giving leaders tools and resources, convening focus groups, and, most importantly, facilitating communication between leaders and employees.

Acknowledging that any culture change can be a challenge, Kupe said that leaders need to be honest with themselves about whether they’re truly pursuing DEI or whether they’re resisting the process. Dublin noted that “DEI is a journey, not a destination,” adding “if you think you’ve arrived, start again.”

Supplier Catalog - IPM

Startups and innovation

  • Be flexible and resilient.
  • Combine grit with solid decision-making.
  • Understand that the process is not linear.
  • Focus on consumers rather than the competition.

These were the key pieces of advice offered by Doozy Pots co-founder Kirsten Sutaria, Prime Roots co-founder and CTO Joshua Nixon, Nature’s Fynd co-founder and CEO Thomas Jonas, and Hodo Foods founder and CEO Minh Tsai during an innovation panel hosted by food scientist and podcast host Adam Yee.

Other key takeaways from the session:

  • Starting a successful company is more about having the right team than the right cofounder.
  • Securing capital requires putting in plenty of legwork (sometimes literally – Jonas traveled around Silicon Valley with a meatless chicken nugget in a plastic bag to drum up investor interest).
  • Find people who are passionate about your product to help you build your network.
  • Don’t forget about the consumer. Nixon noted that food tech startups tend to talk too much about the “how” (which appeals to investors) rather than the “what” (which appeals to consumers).