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Continued innovation can help enable a bright future for Minnesota’s food sector

–by Shannon Schlecht

Thank you to all who have welcomed me during my first months as Executive Director for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI). It has been a pleasure to meet so many of you who make up the innovation network that turns Minnesota agricultural products into growing businesses, new products and jobs for our state.

AURI helps develop new uses for agricultural products through science and technology, partnering with businesses and entrepreneurs to bring ideas to reality. Our work in the four focus areas (biobased products, renewable energy, coproducts and food) assists entrepreneurs and growing businesses navigate the demands of entering the marketplace.

One industry undergoing a dramatic transformation right now is food production and processing – as consumer preference changes and retailers work to accommodate their needs. As an example, consumers increasingly want a local, sustainable and healthy product.

More than 200 food-related enterprises have turned to AURI in recent years for guidance on recipe review, reformulation, scale-up, nutritional labeling, food safety and regulatory guidance. One way to support these innovators and entrepreneurs is with a commitment to state-of-the art facilities. AURI asked for funding from the state bond fund to complete facility upgrades to laboratories located on the Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) campus. Upgraded infrastructure will help address impediments facing the industry, such as:

  • Consumer preference: Building a new sensory lab and developmental kitchen will allow AURI clients and scientists to conduct taste tests with consumers, improving feedback throughout the entire product development phase.
  • Scale and production demand: The transition from seasonal farmer’s markets to stocking retailer shelves year-round is often a major challenge. Improvements will help with product development functions such as recipe batching and reformulations.
  • Industry knowledge: Our staff have extensive background in the food industry. AURI training provides entrepreneurs with regulatory and labeling guidance, food safety planning and more.

With the proposed upgrades to communications infrastructure at the Marshall facility, staff will have the ability to record, preserve and transmit training and provide greater assistance to our geographically diverse clients.

The facility upgrade will increase AURI’s ability to both serve more clients as well as provide better service to bring ideas to reality in this developing area. In the past year alone, AURI has seen a 25 percent increase in food client work.

In addition to meeting growing client needs, the expansion at SMSU will serve as an important resource to train the next generation of food scientists and innovators as students from the Culinology and Hospitality Management program gain hands-on experience in the upgraded labs.

AURI’s work in its focus areas is continuously underway to positively impact Minnesota’s economy and we hope to be able to expand AURI’s offerings to Minnesota’s food entrepreneurs and businesses in the food area with a successful bonding outcome.