MSU Center to accelerate the development of new and innovative food products

Michigan State University has received the 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 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. Yet, Michigan ranks only 19 in the nation for food processing and manufacturing. There is obviously much 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.

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 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.

Let’s take for example a hypothetical Michigan company and 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 four 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 can easily direct such a project 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 kinds of situations, the Michigan State University Product Center would be a likely candidate to provide the technical expertise to assist a company in scaling up to meet this new demand. The Product Center is limited, however, by the fact that they do not have a physical location where companies can come to set up shop and solve the challenges of a large scale up project such as the one described above. Thanks to these grant awards, this is about to change.

MSU possesses many assets that underpin the FPIC. It has access to faculty and students innovating and researching products and processes in varied disciplines such as food and natural resources product development, logistics, packaging, food science and human nutrition, business development, supply chain and others. It 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. When the FPIC comes on-line in 2016, MSU will finally have a place for all disciplines to come together to accelerate the growth of Michigan’s food processing industry.

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 establish MSU as the preeminent institution to help Michigan become one of the top states for food processing and manufacturing.

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