CHICAGO — The Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and expo is going to look a little different this year.

The team behind the event, which takes place July 13-15, has been hard at work creating a first-of-its-kind virtual experience since the in-person component was canceled in March.

IFT’s goal when making the switch was maintaining a sense of interaction and collaboration among registrants.

“It was important to provide an engaging, accessible and inclusive platform,” said Jennifer Garcia, public relations and media specialist at IFT.

Each IFT division currently is planning its own virtual reception. IFT also has different social events planned for the end of each day, including mixing a custom cocktail with a mixologist, cooking a meal with a sensory scientist and a mid-week dance party.

Outside of planned social events, attendees will be able to contact exhibitors and start video chats (with multi-person capabilities) through their virtual profiles. The virtual profiles also allow users to follow others and see where they’re engaging during the show.

“While it won’t be the same as our in-person annual event, we are still excited to be able to bring our international community together to learn and connect in this extremely interactive way,” Garcia said.

A networking platform offered within the virtual event site will provide a matchmaking and solution resource. Like the in-person show, exhibitors will be able to find attendees with targeted interests and contact them.

All booths will live on a showcase page, where exhibitors can share their own content library containing case studies, brochures, press releases, videos and other links. Attendees can click a button to request a live meeting or leave a virtual business card at any booth to receive more information.

Exhibitors also are getting creative with their virtual booths to provide a more interactive experience.

“A virtual experience is uniquely challenging for an exhibition like ours, given that food is about the sensory experience,” Garcia said. “This hasn’t stopped our exhibitors, though. Many are reaching out to customers and attendees, inviting them to attend special demos and presentations with virtual goody bags sent ahead of time.”

This year’s event will offer several benefits only available through a digital platform, Garcia said.

“Exhibitors will receive a more extensive list of who looked at their information, because the virtual system records everyone who clicks on a booth, as opposed to trying to scan a badge for everyone who visits a booth,” she said. “And while on-site booths need to be cleaned up immediately following our annual show, this year, the virtual booths will stay active for six months, allowing attendees and post event registrants to further engage with exhibitors.”

Attendees also will have access to educational content, including more than 100 scientific presentations and 750 poster presentations, after the event has ended.

“Instead of being limited to three days to see all the scientific and technical research content, registrants will be able to view it at their leisure up to a year after the event,” Garcia said.

Registrants can expect a mix of live and recorded educational sessions, with five semi-live panels, a completely live “hackathon” and several fireside chats with special guests.

“For panels and fireside chats, attendees will be able to ask questions in real-time,” Garcia said. “For the scientific sessions, attendees will be able to reach out to the presenters via their profiles on our event platform and ask questions directly.”