Skip to content
Photo of delegation at JETRO Conference

International Visits – A Highlight of AURI’s Outreach in 2023

The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) prides itself on generating impact for the Minnesota agricultural economy and does so by collaborating globally and acting regionally and locally. This year, AURI’s staff met with delegations from multiple countries in an effort to expand the scope of possibilities and identify value-added opportunities for and in Minnesota.

Netherlands Visit
Officials in the Netherlands have set a goal to reach a 60/40 ratio of plant/animal protein composition in diets by 2030. To accomplish this goal, partnerships with like-minded businesses, corporations, food companies and startups are required.

With protein being a key strategic area of interest in the Netherlands, a Dutch innovation-focused business delegation visited Minnesota and Canada to build partnerships in the alternative proteins sector. They targeted Canada and Minnesota as each has a strong reputation of being leading producers of high-quality agricultural products.

The innovation mission set out to: (1) gain insight into the ecosystems in the alternative proteins sector in Canada and the United States and (2) explore trends and opportunities for public-private collaboration between institutions and companies in research and development.

The Dutch delegation included business owners, as well as representatives from the Netherlands Embassy in Washington D.C. and the Netherlands Consulate General in Chicago and Vancouver. AURI worked with MBOLD and the Canadian Consulate on a Minnesota program. Shannon Schlecht, executive director of AURI, was part of the planning cohort that hosted the Dutch delegation and moderated a panel discussion with ecosystem members (Puris, SunOpta, Schwan’s, University of Minnesota) to showcase the plant protein ecosystem and plant-based protein innovation efforts.

The Netherlands plays beyond its size in the agriculture innovation space and this delegation had a clear strategy to build collaborative opportunities in the alternative protein area,” Schlecht says. “We look forward to exploring synergistic innovation areas that can create new market opportunities for Minnesota’s agricultural assets and industry.”

In addition to the individual visits, representatives from both countries participated in a virtual Global Protein Roundtable of roughly 30 individuals hosted in April by AURI, MBOLD and the Canadian Consulate. The Roundtable provided perspectives from several international organizations and businesses on the opportunity to scale and expand protein-related business opportunities here.

Finland Visit
Team Finland, led by Ambassador Mikko Hautala, visited the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area in May 2023 to convene with state leadership, representatives of Fortune 500 companies and top research institutions to discuss the decarbonization of industry and innovative food opportunities in Minnesota. The partnership between Minnesota and Finland began in 2021 after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) prior to the Governor’s Trade Mission in November 2021.

On the decarbonization side, Team Finland met with companies and institutions, including Ever-Green Energy, Xcel Energy, Clean Energy Economy and 3M, to address its carbonization goals. In addition, representatives from Finnish companies met with manufacturers at Hormel Foods and Cargill to discuss challenges facing energy and manufacturing efficiency.

With Minnesota home to several major food companies, such as General Mills, Land O’ Lakes and Hormel Foods, Team Finland and the Minnesota cohort explored opportunities for developing new, natural and plant-based products. The team met and had discussions with MBOLD, Naturally MN, Step One Foods, General Mills, Buhler, the University of Minnesota’s Plant Protein Innovation Center, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Trade Office and several other Minnesota entities to explore new opportunities.

Jason Robinson, AURI’s business development director-food, was part of the cohort that hosted the delegation from Team Finland. “We worked closely with the Minnesota Trade Office to help the Finnish team understand the breadth and depth of our food business support ecosystem, while showcasing Minnesota as a hub of sustainability and protein innovation – all in an effort to identify future business collaborations,” says Robinson.

Elina Fahlgren, senior advisor of the Food from Finland program at Business Finland, summed up the purpose and impact of the delegation’s visit. “The economic landscape of Minnesota is very appealing. It is advanced on many sectors and open for exploring new technologies and tackling pressing issues.” In reference to the value of AURI’s deep engagement with the delegation, Ms. Fahlgren went on to say, “AURI’s continuous support in building bridges between Finland and Minnesota has been instrumental for our successful visits in 2022 and 2023. Our companies have given excellent feedback for both the content and contacts made through the delegation.”

JETRO Conference
The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) was established in 1958 by Japan’s Ministry of Economy and is a government-related organization working to promote mutual trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world. It has 76 offices in 56 countries, including six in the United States. Each year, JETRO hosts the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association Conference, with the event rotating between Japan and locations in the Upper Midwest.

This year, it was hosted in Tokyo September 8-15, and representatives from multiple states attended to showcase innovation in the Upper Midwest. The delegation from Minnesota included Governor Walz, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Andrea Vaubel and more.

Dr. Luca Zullo, senior director of science and technology at AURI, was invited by JETRO to be part of the conference to showcase innovation opportunities in Minnesota and the food/agriculture space. Luca gave a presentation to Japanese agriculture businesses and participated in several breakout sessions. In addition, he visited two companies with whom AURI sees potential for new collaborations— Spiber (makers of bioderived, customizable materials) and Tsubame (a green nitrogen company). He also met with Dr. Masaru Tomita, director of the Institute for Advanced Biosciences (IAB) at Tsuruoka Science Park, a hub for enterprise and research.

“This was a unique opportunity to highlight the vibrancy of the Minnesota ag sector to several highly innovative Japanese companies,” says Zullo. “We look forward to multiple mutually beneficial collaboration opportunities to develop new sustainable markets and products. We are deeply grateful to JETRO for their indispensable support in catalyzing these activities and new relationships.”