Agribusiness along the I-99 Corridor creates a healthy food and beverage production industry.
The agribusiness and food manufacturing industries continue to plow forward in the I-99 Corridor, where 2,900 farms produce crops with an annual market value of about $325 million and a robust food and beverage production industry employs nearly 2,000 workers.
Helping to drive innovation and new agribusiness enterprise is Penn State University, where the College of Agricultural Sciences houses such assets as the Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health. Researchers at the center have made several food research discoveries in recent years. In January 2015, for example, they found that a compound in green tea may trigger a cycle that kills oral cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. Besides oral cancer, the research could lead to treatments for other types of cancer.
Food and beverage manufacturing in the region is flourishing. In Blair County, Boyer Candy Co. makes the iconic Mallo Cup as well as Smoothie Cups, Peanut Butter Cups and Triple Twist Pretzels.
Tipton-based DelGrosso Foods, founded in 1914 and now the oldest family-owned producer of pasta sauce in the United States, has expanded several times in the region and diversified its products and private label production for national and international customers.
Also experiencing success in the I-99 Corridor region is CCDA Water, which has a bottling operation in Centre County, and Roaring Spring Water, a fifth-generation, family-owned company in Blair County that distributes bottled spring water in four states.
Food manufacturing enjoys a long history in the region. Benzel’s Bretzel Bakery, which makes old-world style pretzels, has been in business since 1911.
The company was founded by Adolph Benzel, and today is housed in an ultra-modern, 180,000-square-foot facility in Altoona, a far cry from Adolph’s 75-square-foot bakery, says Ann Benzel, owner of Benzel’s Bretzel Bakery and a descendant of Adolph’s.
“The company has gone from a regional bakery serving customers by horse and buggy to a national producer and distributor,” she says.
Benzel’s was one of the first companies to introduce oat bran pretzels to the market, and has since added protein and fiber to its products. A total of 85 employees oversee two daily shifts at the bakery, with five production lines in operation per shift. In 2015, Benzel’s completed a major three-year expansion and equipment upgrade to maximize production efficiencies.
“Our employees are experts at what they do, and our business relationships, colleagues, vendors and friends throughout this region have always been there for us,” Benzel says.
All Bottled Up
Another company finding prosperity in the I-99 Corridor is Shirley’s Cookies, which began as a donut shop in Blair County in 1967 and now supplies a variety of cookie products and baked goods to several convenience stores, grocery stores, bakeries and food service operations. In Centre County. Hanover Foods, a leading packager of canned and frozen vegetables, snacks and other foods, operates a food-processing facility in Centre Hall.
Another I-99 company is helping to satisfy the growing thirst for craft spirits. Big Spring Spirits has opened a microdistillery in an old match factory building in Bellefonte in Centre County. A law change in Pennsylvania in 2011 cleared the way for microdistilleries to begin operating, catching the interest of Kevin Lloyd, co-owner of Big Spring Spirits with his partner, Paula Cipar. Big Spring Spirits opened in July 2014 to produce vodka, gin, white corn whiskey, spiced rum, coconut rum and aged gin.
The company now wholesales its Big Spring Spirits line of products to about 50 restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania.
“I buy my corn and wheat from a farm in Huntingdon County, and rye from Penn Valley about 20 miles away,” Lloyd says. “We have a tasting room that opens Thursday-Sunday and get all our water locally from the natural Big Spring, which was voted Best Water in Pennsylvania for 2014 by the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association.”
Lloyd says he wouldn’t want to be based anywhere else.
“Bellefonte and Centre County were very helpful with permits and inspection guidelines to get our company started,” he says. “This entire I-99 Corridor region of Pennsylvania seems to very pro-business.”