March/April 2019 - 10

'A Leasable Factory'
By Zeke Jennings
Managing Editor
A NEW FACILITY at Michigan
State University offers some unique
opportunities for food producers.
The Food Processing and Innovation
Center (FPIC) opened in 2018. The facility
offers a wide range of equipment and
the ability to experiment and produce
ready-to-sell, regulated products. FPIC
Director Matt Birbeck describes the
facility as " a leasable factory. "
" Not only can (companies) come in
here and do proof of concept, they can do
full runs and sell into the marketplace, "
Birbeck said. " That is the clever thing
because you can recover costs. "
The ability to make ready-to-sell
products on site stems from being
licensed with federal and state
inspection departments, as well as an
in-house team well versed in all food
safety regulations and compliance
measures. Facility and Operations
Manager Jason Hofman and his staff
have the ability to create a food safety
plan on their own or, in the case of
larger producers, work with their
compliance team.
" We do have a federal grant of
inspection for meat, poultry and egg
products, so we can produce sellable
products out of this facility, " Hofman
said. " That's probably the biggest
thing that makes us different from
everybody else.
" We have a license with the
(Michigan) Department of Agriculture
and Rural Development, which means
we also fall under the jurisdiction of the
FDA, so we're registered with the FDA. "
The original goal
With MSU Extension's commitment
to support the food and agricultural
10 MARCH/APRIL 2 019
 Jason Hofman, facility and operations manager of the Food Processing and Innovation Center in
Michigan, stands near the facility's 30-foot automatic liquid filler. Photos: Zeke Jennings
industry, the FPIC is part of the MSU
Product Center that provide a complete
suite of services for
ventures, to large established stage
3 companies.
The culmination of these services
saw the need to create the FPIC to
enhance and mitigate the risk of
innovation and expansion. Targeted
primarily for these mid-sized, stage 2
companies, it's also an invaluable asset
for large stage 3 companies looking
to find R&D facilities with different
types of processing and packaging
equipment. Companies that are well
established and significant brand
following and desire to grow often lack
the resources such as in house research
and development capabilities. Birbeck
cited two Michigan-based companies -
Grand Traverse Pie Company and
Slows Bar BQ - as typical companies
that require the FPIC to be part of their
stage 1 start-up
strategic growth.
" The notion for the FPIC was born
out of that. These stage 1 companies
had access to incubator kitchens, so
they didn't really need it. Stage 3
companies have their own R&D plants
and, therefore, had options, " Birbeck
said. " But these stage 2 companies
had nothing. "
" How are you going to be competitive
in the marketplace in the future? How
are you going to grow your business? "
Birbeck said he would ask food
producers. " They would say product
development and moving pieces. ... It
was all very well for them telling us
what they were planning to do, but
there was no way or place for them
to do it. "
The FPIC is the first of its kind that
provides an R&D facility with all the

March/April 2019

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