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Incubating new food products, businesses

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Using a proposed incubator-type facility, University of Georgia food scientists in Griffin, Ga., plan to help more food industry representatives launch new food products from Georgia commodities.

"Some 15,000 new food products are introduced annually in the United States," said Rakesh Singh, head of the UGA Food Science and Technology Department. "Of those, 80 percent are withdrawn in two years, which translates into a loss of $4 billion."

New businesses need nurturing

The way Singh and his food scientists see it, that failure rate means new food businesses need more nurturing. To do that, the department hopes to open an incubator facility on the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' campus in Griffin, Ga.

The facility would be part of the existing Food Product Innovation and Commercialization program there. It would serve as a partnership between small food business entrepreneurs, UGA food scientists and the Griffin-Spalding County community. Funding for the 19,000 square-foot facility is currently being sought from federal, state, local and private sources.

"This is an outstanding opportunity for our community to be involved in research and commercialization of new products," said David Luckie, director of the Griffin-Spalding County Development Authority. "Of course, we selfishly would like to see the new businesses develop here in our county."

Strengthen, advise and release

Singh said the new facility would give companies a stronger start. "Small companies could come to Griffin and establish their businesses in-house with support from UGA faculty," he said. "(Then they would) reach a stage when they would be ready to open their own businesses or expand existing product lines."

At the Food PIC facility, new business owners would be guided in product development, packaging, food safety, consumer acceptance, marketing and a host of other areas, Singh said.

Singh saw a similar project through to fruition while working at Purdue University. He says programs like the Food PIC program help smaller companies, farmers and entrepreneurs produce niche products, offer customized services and target speciality markets.

For years, he said, Georgia farmers have grown and sold bulk commodities. Then a processor converts their crops into high-value products and reaps the profits.

"The Food PIC program and the incubator facility would help them take advantage of niche markets the megacompanies can't serve efficiently," Singh said. "Our growers ought to produce niche products and not bulk commodities. They can't compete with megacompanies in selling what those large companies sell globally."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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