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Big Challenges and Bright Innovation at this Year’s Bold Open

Events and large group gatherings across the country have been canceled due to COVID-19, resulting in a general slowdown in innovation and new product development discussions. However, a group of innovative Midwest-based companies created a new way to further innovation throughout the United States and around the globe by hosting a virtual open innovation platform and online reverse pitch event, called The Bold Open.

This virtual event, held at the end of July, brought together leading Minnesota food and agriculture companies and research entities to highlight unique industry challenges with the goal of creating partnerships with producers, entrepreneurs, researchers, businesses and creators that have innovative solutions.

While reverse pitch events are becoming more common, what sets the Bold Open apart is its strong connection to food and agriculture. This is an important distinction for these times when producers face low commodity prices and businesses face industry challenges related to sustainability and use of waste streams. So, it should come as no surprise that nearly half of this year’s challenges focused on these issues.

Overall, there were 20 challenges presented at this year’s Bold Open. Each one focused on different areas of the food and ag industry based on the collaborates’ specific innovation needs. Highlighted below are a few examples of the 2020 Bold Open challenges. To check out all of the collaborators and challenges, visit

Treatment of Perfluoroalkyl Substances

Ecolab presented a challenge entitled “Treatment of Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)” which looks to identify treatment solutions that can significantly reduce the amount of Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water entering food and beverage manufacturing facilities.

Despite PFAS production being phased-out in many countries, its persistence in the environment will result in these compounds continuing to be a concern for many years to come. Water is often used within the food and beverage industry as an ingredient, so ensuring this water is PFAS-free is an important food safety consideration.

Ecolab’s challenge focused on finding solutions that are applicable to treatment of the water at the food and beverage manufacturing site and could be used to either treat all the water entering the site or just the water used as an ingredient. At the same time, solutions need to consider the impact of water quality on the food and beverage producer’s product quality.

Fresh Meat Shelf Life

Cargill presented the challenge, “Fresh Meat Shelf Life,” which looks for innovative solutions that extend shelf life of refrigerated meat and egg products, while maintaining the company’s commitments to sustainability, quality, optimal nutrition and food safety.

The reason Cargill is seeking an answer to this challenge is because reducing food waste is a priority for the company, and a critical part of its BeefUp initiative, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. beef supply chain by 30% by 2030.

As a growing global population demands more protein, this is part of Cargill’s strategy to ensure efficiency in the supply chain from farm to fork.

The Future of Distillers’ Grains

Another value-added challenge, presented by Glacial Grain Spirits (GGS) at this year’s Bold Open, addressed the “Optimization of Organic Feed Usage.”

GGS wants to identify efficient, effective handling and marketing solutions to add value to small batch organic distillers’ grains from corn. Because GGS produces a high-quality organic ethyl alcohol used in many applications from cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to beverages, it also produces about 385 tons of organic distillers grain every year. Currently GGS has limited opportunity to utilize this valuable feedstock as existing storage space and drying capacity do not allow the facility to segregate these distillers’ grains to maintain both food grade and organic certification.

Incorporating Regionally Appropriate Small Grains

Next, Hormel Foods presented a challenge for “Cropping Innovations for Beef, Poultry and Swine Feed.”

It sought insight and partnership strategies to expand incorporation of regionally appropriate small grains such as oats and cover crops in corn/soy production systems with the aim of reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint and improving the water stewardship of crops used in beef, turkey, chicken and swine feed.

Hormel Foods’ reason for seeking innovation in this space was a desire to reduce its Scope 3 GHG emissions and improve water stewardship in its supply chains. The development and adoption of beef, poultry and swine feed that incorporates small grains and cover crops in production systems will be rooted in innovation by animal producers who grow their own feed, grain growers that supply feed or ingredients for commercial sale, and stakeholders in the supply chain to bring such feed to market. Hormel Foods believes input from farm-based organizations, agronomists, animal nutritionists, environmental scientists, grain handlers and crop commercialization strategists will help illuminate new pathways and innovations toward feed production that incorporate small grains or cover crops.

At the same time, Hormel Foods and Jennie-O also presented a joint challenge for “Nutrient Separation and Re-usable Poultry Bedding,” to develop environmentally sustainable solution for poultry litter.

As leaders in food technologies in agriculture, this is a priority for Hormel Foods and Jennie-O because they are interested in advancing environmentally sustainable initiatives on the farm. They believe poultry byproducts need additional innovation for sustainability.

Uses for Dairy Product Solids

During the Bold Open, Land O’ Lakes Inc. presented a challenge seeking “Novel Uses for Milk and Whey Permeate.” More specifically, they are seeking to identify novel industrial uses for milk permeate or whey permeate in liquid or dry form. Both Milk and Whey Permeates may also be known as dairy product solids.

Land O’Lakes is interested in this because of the high quantity of industrial uses for dry or liquid milk and/or whey permeate. The company desires to increase the value of dairy by-products for its farmer owners by identifying new uses. Both food and non-food uses will be considered but non-food uses are a key area of interest.

More Uses for Plastic Packaging

MBOLD, a coalition of Minnesota’s globally leading businesses, researchers, and food and agriculture producers, presented a challenge to identify “End Uses for Recycled Flexible Plastic Packaging.” To that end, MBOLD is seeking partners in the recycling, re-processing and manufacturing sectors in reasonable proximity to Minnesota to jointly explore market-based collaborations aimed at fostering a more circular economy for flexible films.

The organization was seeking partnerships because the use of flexible plastic packaging, a broad category including plastic pouches, wraps and bags, is expanding rapidly. Plastic film and flexible packaging in North America is projected to grow 3% annually with current US demand at approximately 12 billion pounds (valued at $24-25 billion) per year. This packaging material is designed to deliver food safely and efficiently. From a life cycle analysis, flexible films are almost always the best choice. Flexible films are also used in many other aspects of the food and agricultural system. However, only 4% of this material is recycled, with nearly all of it ending up in landfills at end of life.

A Lot of Soybean Hulls

Another value-added challenge presented at this year’s Bold Open event, which came from the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (MSRPC), addressed the need for “New Uses for Soybean Hulls.” The MSRPC believes soybean hulls represent an opportunity to better utilize the various components to create higher value products by further processing them using extraction technologies or microbial or bacterial processes.

According to the MSRPC, soybean hulls—the outer coating of a soybean seed—represents about 7-8% of a whole soybean seed. That soybean hull must be removed at the first point of processing to efficiently extract soybean protein (meal) and soybean oil. The biggest end use market for soybean hulls currently is ruminant feed. Current industrial uses for soybean hulls include bioremediation and as a filler for biobased plastics.

Small Farmer Financial Resource Tools

Finally, Compeer Financial presented the challenge “Small Farmer Financial Resource Tools” which sought to find efficient methods to serve small and micro farms so that the farmers can concentrate on producing quality products and get the products to market in a timely fashion.

Smaller farms may require more labor and use less machinery to complete the work in a timely fashion and maintain quality products. As a result, the farmers still have the financial needs to operate their farm but may not have the time to spend on their financial tools. Compeer is looking to work with more of these operations to be a resource, trusted advisor and partner. Potential solutions could include mobile applications, new software, online services, marketing plans and marketing opportunities.

While reverse pitch events are becoming more common, what sets the Bold Open apart is its strong connection to food and agriculture.