Food & Beverage Perspectives
CIFT’s Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen Spurs Innovation

CIFTs Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen Spurs Innovation

<p>Spearheading growth and expertise in the locally produced foods sector in northern Ohio is the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen (NOCK), a collaboration between the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) and the Agricultural Incubator Foundation (AIF).</p>

A recently released report from Packaged Facts estimated that local foods generated $12 billion in sales in 2014, accounting for 2 percent of total U.S. retail sales of foods and beverages. Over the next five years, locally produced foods will grow faster than the annual pace of total food and beverage sales to approach $20 billion in 2019.

The survey conducted by the market research firm found 53 percent of the U.S. adult respondents specially seek out locally grown or locally produced foods, and nearly half said they are willing to pay up to 10 percent more for locally grown or produced foods, while 30 percent said they are willing to pay up to 25 percent more. What’s more, one-third of consumers also claim to consciously purchase locally grown or locally produced foods at least once a week.

Among the primary reasons for purchasing locally grown or locally produced foods, the majority of consumers claim they do so because the products are fresher. In addition, more than half of consumers say they buy local products to support local businesses, and more than 40 percent of consumers say the products taste better. In addition, roughly a third believes that local products are healthier, and that they like to know where their food is coming from.

Over the past 10 years, there has been a surge in consumer demand for locally produced foods, along with widening availability, and a number of larger grocers are carrying and promoting local products. This creates a great opportunity for innovation for locally produced foods to claim a much more prominent—and permanent—place in the U.S. food and beverage retail-scape.

A few months ago, I had to opportunity witness this growing trend during a Northwest Ohio Food Processing press trip organized by the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP). John Gibney, vice president of communications and marketing at RGP, spearheaded the event where we visited five key food processing companies in the agricultural-rich Toledo area—Cooper Farms, Lakeview Farms, Campbell’s, Hirzel Canning and the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT). (Be sure to look for future blogs and image galleries on each of the companies I visited.)

Spearheading growth and expertise in the locally produced foods sector in northern Ohio is the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen (NOCK), a collaboration between the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) and the Agricultural Incubator Foundation (AIF). NOCK, located in Bowling Green, Ohio, serves as a nonprofit commercial facility that educates and advises new and growing businesses, provides access to a commercially-licensed kitchen, networking opportunities with other similar entities, and technical assistance.

I had to opportunity to tour the facility with Rebecca Singer, vice president and director, agricultural programs, and Jim Konecny, manager, marketing and communications, CIFT.

Born out of northwest Ohio’s rich tradition in fruit and vegetable production and food processing, the NOCK focuses on the development and production of specialty, value-added foods. Its mission is to encourage sustainable economic development and the advancement of micro enterprises using regionally grown and manufactured food products by providing a shared, innovative food production and educational resource facility in northwest Ohio.

The nonprofit commercial kitchen assists new and growing businesses by providing access to a commercially licensed kitchen, networking opportunities with other like entities and technical assistance. The kitchen incubator’s services and resources bridge the gap between an idea and reality. It is costly to start a small-scale food manufacturing operation when exploring a food-based venture. However, new and growing businesses can avoid this initial expenditure by utilizing the commercial kitchen until the business is viable and ready to graduate to its own manufacturing facility. The kitchen facility maintains a baking and canning license and is approved by both the Wood County Health Department and the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Therefore, most of the foods produced in the kitchen can be marketed and sold in local, regional, and national markets.

NOCK assistance includes providing information on everything from recipe modifications for mass production, to outlets for packaging materials, to linking small businesses with food science experts. The ability to network with other entrepreneurs, access information and take advantage of production capacity all in one spot minimizes the risk for a new food business venture. I had the opportunity to meet with two companies operating in CIFT’s food incubator and discuss how they went from a dream to reality.

Don Hill, owner of Brickyard Sloppy Joe Sauces, found success taking his grandmothers’ recipe to the masses. The idea came to him during his tour as a Navy corpsman in Afghanistan after eating a terrible tasting sloppy Joe MRE. After he was discharged, he began exploring the idea of mass producing the sauce in his home state of Ohio. Hill turned to the experts at CIFT and NOCK and after a lot of hard work his product is available in Toledo-area retailers including Anderson’s, Walmart and Kroger. Hill also recently contracted with the Bowling Green public school district to make his sauce available as part of its lunch program.

Tim Campbell, owner of The Mustard Man, also turned to CIFT to help take his family’s mustard recipe to the next level. For years, friends encouraged Campbell to market his mustards that were mainstays at holiday gatherings and tailgating parties. With business guidance as well as help from NOCK’s technical personnel, Mustard Man products are now available in three flavors and can be found in regional retailers including Andersons, Buehler’s and Lehmans.

Be sure to check out all the opportunities offered by CIFT, and check out the YouTube video about NOCK. You never know where the next big food or beverage product will come from.

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