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AURI’s Food Team Generates Impact in 2023

The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute’s (AURI) food team provides consulting and technical services to help bring business ideas to reality. Last year, the team worked on 114 projects throughout the state, split between private commercialization projects and public initiatives. Of those, 46 were new endeavors launched during the fiscal year.

As part of AURI’s annual Ag Innovation Partnership Program, the food team studied the challenging economics of shared-use commercial kitchens in Minnesota. Shared-use commercial kitchens are critical for home-based food businesses to increase production to meet growing demand. In recent years, several commercial kitchens in Minnesota have gone out of business or changed hands. Further, a perception exists that there is not enough shared-use commercial kitchen space for growing cottage food businesses in some rural Minnesota areas.

A key takeaway from the research was that knowledge and resource gaps exist among commercial kitchen owners and users.

One research partner noted: “The answer is not always that we need more [commercial kitchen] space. Sometimes, the industry needs a better understanding of what is in the market. There are idle facilities in some communities, but there are also kitchens in restaurants, schools, and churches that are not being used throughout the day.”

Final results were shared publicly via the AURI Connects Webinar Wednesday platform, with the Minnesota Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen: Final Report available at

In the spring of 2023, AURI’s team worked with food company Hoyo SBC to provide technical assistance related to products for school lunch programs. Hoyo, which means “mother” in Somali, was founded to employ and empower Somali women. It hires these moms to make one of their favorite dishes, sambusa, so they can share a piece of their culture with the broader community while also providing an income stream for their families. Sambusa is a triangular pastry hand-folded and stuffed with meat or lentils, fried and then frozen for distribution. The products are sold wholesale, but the company recently transitioned most of its production to provide sambusa for Minnesota’s school lunch program. AURI optimized formulas and prepared necessary calculations and documents to meet school meal guidelines. The food team also provided resources and connections to Hoyo as it transitioned to a larger production space.

AURI also worked with CannonBelles, located in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. CannonBelles produces award-winning artisanal cheeses at its manufacturing facility. It is also home to CannonBelles Coffee and Ice Cream, which sells cheese and other local products. After making beer and wine together for years, friends Deeann Lufkin, Jackie Ohman, and Kathy Hupf started making cheese in the fall of 2011. They improved their formulations based on feedback from friends and family and extensive research about cheese making.

In the fall of 2015, they were approached by the Director of Economic Development and Planning for Cannon Falls and formed a partnership leading to the creation of a manufacturing facility. In 2022, their dream of opening their own plant in Cannon Falls became a reality. AURI’s food team worked with CannonBelles to complete analyses and nutrition labels for cheddar cheese curds, enabling sales into a local school lunch program. In addition, AURI completed nutrition labels for several other varieties of cheese sold at retail in various locations.

AURI supports the food ecosystem and collaborates with several entities in multiple ways each year to assist food businesses beyond its project work. Ecosystem support last year included training events, food safety guidance and more. In 2023, members of AURI’s food team shared presentations at several events, including but not limited to the Ancient Grains Conference, Naturally MN’s Food and Ag Ecosystem Summit, The Good Acre’s CPG Resource Round-up for Emerging Food Businesses, and the FEAST! Wholesale and Retail Tradeshow Q&A. Presentation topics ranged from “Conquer Your Costs,” “Understanding Food Product Shelf-Life for Scaling Businesses” to “AURI Food Team Capabilities & Services.”

“AURI has helped us at Hoyo ever since we needed nutrition facts to add to our retail packaging several years ago. As the business has grown, we have continued to turn to AURI for nutritional analysis with new products, lunch crediting for public schools and advice on how to scale our small social enterprise. We’re so grateful for their assistance throughout our journey! We know AURI is an organization in our corner and there to help us when we need it.” -Luke Snider, Director of Operations, Hoyo, SBC

“The team at AURI is wonderful!  They were extremely helpful and patient with us. The work they did significantly impacted getting us into new markets.” -Deeann Lufkin, Co-Founder, CannonBelles