MSU to accelerate development of innovative food products

11/3/2014

Photo courtesy MSU Food Safety and Human Nutrition. (view larger image)

Photo courtesy MSU Food Safety and Human Nutrition.

By Randy Bell, Extension Educator for Community Food Systems, Michigan State University Extension

Michigan State University has received funding to create the Food Processing and Innovation Center, a place for established companies to create and commercialize vibrant new food products.

Michigan grows over 300 different agriculture commodities. According to a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development report titled, “Michigan’s Food & Agriculture Industry”, Michigan has 1,841 licensed food processors and generates nearly $25 billion in economic activity. Despite this, Michigan ranks only 19th in the nation for food processing and manufacturing. MSU believes there is considerable opportunity for Michigan to be an even bigger economic powerhouse when it comes to capitalizing on its rich agricultural diversity. How might this happen?

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) of the United State Department of Commerce has awarded a $2.6 million grant to Michigan State University to fund the creation of the Food Processing and Innovation Center (FPIC). Additionally, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan State University Extension and MSU AgBioResearch have contributed an additional $2.6 million in matching funds required to secure the EDA funding. The goal of the FPIC is to increase economic activity and jobs created by the expansion of food processing and manufacturing companies in Michigan.

The FPIC is slated to be a USDA/FDA-certified facility where private companies can use modern, flexible equipment to commercialize and scale up new food products and production processes at a lower cost and with lower risk. Instead of investing large amounts of capital into the development of new or expanded products, businesses can minimize their risk by renting space in the FPIC. Its equipment, such as a spiral freezer, can be used to perfect products and processes. Once perfected, the company will have a stronger case for investing in upgrades to facilities and equipment.

A hypothetical situation can demonstrate the value of the FPIC. A Michigan company produces its signature product, the Michigan Munchbar. It contains dried Michigan-grown cherries, blueberries and cranberries as ingredients. The company, an established manufacturer of baked goods, has had mild success, selling approximately 400,000 Munchbars annually to specialty retailers. A buyer from a major Midwestern retailer with 250 outlets has told the company that if they can guarantee a supply of 4 million of the bars annually, they will sign a purchase contract.

For this company, there are many real challenges with scaling up to meet the demands of such a contract. These challenges may include making important decisions about high volume equipment and manufacturing processes as well as packaging and logistics.

Large, multinational companies direct such projects to their research and development (R&D) department. However, most small to mid-sized companies do not have in-house R&D departments. In these situations, the Michigan State University Product Center and the FPIC, will be able provide the technical expertise to assist a company in scaling up to meet this new demand.

MSU possesses many assets that underpin the FPIC. When the new Center comes online in 2016, it will have access faculty and students innovating and researching products and processes in many varied disciplines. MSU has resources such as a meat lab, dairy foods complex, the MSU School of Packaging and the recently-established Center for Research on Ingredient Safety, to name a few.

The Food Processing and Innovation Center is a unique partnership of federal and state government, higher education and the private sector. All are working together to help Michigan become one of the top states for food processing and manufacturing.