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Food Innovation Center Keeps NJ's Food Manufacturing Pipeline Full

In the world of new food and beverage products, we help our clients turn their dreams into reality. We help them optimize their products, support their market debut, and cheer them on when they flourish. Seeing our “graduates” succeed is the best aspect of our work.

—Michael duBois, director, Rutgers Food Innovation Center

A study released by Rutgers University in 2011 showed that the state is home to 1,660 food and beverage processors, with industry sales totaling $12.12 billion. New Jersey food manufacturers directly contributed an estimated $3.03 billion to Gross State Product (GSP). These food manufacturing businesses employed 32,782 workers with wages of $1.29 billion.

Since 2001, when the Food Innovation Center (FIC) opened, it has assisted a total of 1,400 clients whose success has bolstered the statewide industry statistics. Since just 2009, when the center opened its Bridgeton, New Jersey, incubator, 52 companies have received business and technical mentoring that helped them to commercialize and produce food and beverage products. Also between 2009 and 2011, 11 clients have successfully graduated from the incubator and a total of 36 products have been commercialized.

During a recent interview, Michael duBois, director of the center, spoke about how incubator clients benefit from FIC services and go on to be a vital part of the state’s food industry.

What are the primary advantages for companies located at the Food Innovation Center incubator?

We have lots we can offer, starting with product development. In product development, our expertise in food microbiology, processing techniques, chemistry and taste acceptance enable the client to finalize a market-ready product that meets standards of stability, safety and optimum aesthetic appeal. And the center has access to the collective knowledge base and powerful ongoing research available through Rutgers University. FIC companies have a better chance of offering a truly relevant and enticing new food or beverage to consumers.

In addition to the technical aspects of product development, the FIC provides marketing, positioning concepts, labeling guidance and consumer testing such as focus groups and field testing. We also help with training in business fundamentals, food safety and security and regulatory compliance.

There are four separate manufacturing bays in our incubator facility. These production rooms replicate what would happen in a full-scale manufacturing plant. They are larger than what you would see in a pilot lab, and the sanitation is more characteristic of a full-scale operation versus a laboratory simulation. Access to these resources helps our clients avoid an extra step in scale-up.

What types of businesses make use of the incubator?

Our mission to the New Jersey agricultural community is to add value to their harvest, leading to more profitable and sustainable consumer products. We have been pleased that in addition to helping startup entrepreneurs, our services have been sought by larger corporations located in New Jersey and to some companies from outside the state. Wherever there is an opportunity to help a food company make stable, safe and scrumptious foods, we would like to work with them.

We get lots of companies in the early production stage. People may have put together something in their kitchen and come to us with hopes of commercializing the product. Others come to us with just an idea. They can picture what their product would be like, but they need us to help them create it from scratch.

The companies that already have a product may be considering a line extension or an optimization of their current product, for example, a gluten-free version of an existing product.

Some large companies like to come to Bridgeton to use our labs and conference rooms and think of us as an “invention partner.” They know that our laboratories are great for confidential and secure development work, drawing upon our experts as needed.

Who are some of your most successful graduates?

Companies graduate when they outgrow our facility and are ready to move into their own place. At this point consumers are purchasing their product in ever-larger amounts. It is very rewarding to know that we’ve helped someone take a dream and make it a reality.
One recent graduate was Schar USA, which used FIC expertise, skills, and connections to develop gluten-free products for the United States market. After initially producing their bread in our facilities, their market success recently made it necessary to move into a 50,000-sq.-ft. facility in Gloucester County. The plant created 51 new jobs.

Another success story is Jin-Ja, created by an enterprising young man who had this dream of a nutritious, stunningly delicious, and strange-in-a-positive-way beverage that we helped get out into the world. I think he’s a remarkable person, and I’m really proud of what he has done with this totally unique beverage.

Your position as director of the center is relatively new. What is your impression so far?

I’m very grateful for having been able to spend most of my career in the food industry. I’ve worked for food ingredients companies and have also been the owner of some consumer food companies. My job here is a rewarding hybridization of technical and commercial work. The Rutgers Food Innovation Center is a place that draws upon much of the experience I’ve had in the past but stretches it every day in new directions and dimensions.

The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) is the world’s leading organization advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship. Each year, it provides thousands of professionals with information, education, advocacy and networking resources to bring excellence to the process of assisting early-stage companies. An elected, voting board of directors representing the world's leading incubators governs the association.

The New Jersey Business Incubation Network (NJBIN) is a collaborative statewide community of business experts, resources and facilities dedicated to enhancing the commercial success of early-stage entrepreneurial companies, growing higher paying jobs in New Jersey and supporting the Economic Growth Strategy for the State.

Copyright © 2012 NBIA