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Big Appetites in Madison, WI: Agriculture & Food Production

By Bill Lewis on May 18, 2017

Madison, WI
Madison / Jeff Adkins

From family farms to major corporations like Colony Brands, Frito-Lay, Seneca Foods Corp., McCain Foods USA and Hormel Foods, agriculture, food and beverage is a key industry cluster in the Madison Region, directly supporting nearly 70,000 jobs and comprising 20 percent of Wisconsin’s total employment in that sector. The industry enjoys advantages including superior distribution networks, reliable and affordable energy, utilities and high-capacity water service and other infrastructure.

In addition, the industry is the focus of pioneering research at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Dairy Research (CDR) as well as individual companies such as Kerry. More resources are available to the region’s agriculture, food and beverage industry thanks to a federal IMCP (Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership) designation awarded in 2015 to the Madison Region Economic Partnership for the agriculture, food and beverage manufacturing sector. The award opens coordinated support from liaisons who can assist in accessing resources at 11 federal agencies, which, together can offer more than $1 billion in available economic development assistance.

Flavor, Quality, Nutrition

At the Beloit Regional Technology and Innovation Center in Rock County, Kerry has more than 800 food and beverage professionals conducting research in support of customers and the company’s 40 manufacturing sites in the United States and Canada. The center houses Kerry’s sensory and science teams, customer application suites, commercialization center and the new Taste and Nutrition Discovery Center, “all of which help Kerry and our customers produce great tasting and better- for-you foods and beverages,” says Jim Vaughn, a senior manager for Kerry.

“Wisconsin’s central location, robust infrastructure, talented workforce and quality of life have enabled us to grow our business and better serve our customers over the past 30 years,” says Vaughn.

Kerry is a global supplier to retail and food service customers, providing taste and nutrition solutions for their food, beverage and pharmaceutical products. The company also produces multiple branded products. These include well-known brands such as DaVinci, Island Oasis and Golden Ladle, to name a few. Small businesses, entrepreneurs and family farms are getting help growing their business and creating jobs from the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point in Iowa County. The 10,000 square foot, food processing facility is owned by Hodan Community Services, a program supporting people with disabilities.

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen offers commercial food processing services on a contract basis. The facility can prepare, package and private label recipes in small, affordable batches. It also helps food entrepreneurs launch businesses and assists non-food enterprises in connecting to local food related opportunities.

Milking Research Assets

“At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) is committed to partnerships with the U.S. dairy industry to bring innovative, nutritious and profitable products to the global marketplace,” says spokeswoman Bekah McBride.

The CDR offers technical support, product development assistance, scale-up and more. The CDR also offers outreach and training assistance through its TURBO economic development program and continuing education through a short course program and the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program. The CDR also helps private sector companies develop and troubleshoot products. Staff members are available to assist with issues involving safety, quality, functionality and other questions, either at the company’s facilities or in the CDR pilot plant, applications kitchen or sensory lab on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. For entrepreneurs or existing companies interested in technology transfer, the CDR provides the opportunity to license one of its existing patents or other technologies. Clients then work with the center’s staff to perfect the product or technology. The program can also assist an entrepreneur or existing company that has its own dairy-related technology and would like the CDR’s assistance in developing it for commercialization.

“All of these efforts support the private sector by helping companies to create safe, wholesome products that grow the dairy industry in Wisconsin and around the United States,” says McBride. “It is truly the goal of the center to turn our knowledge and expertise into the dairy industry’s success by bridging cutting-edge research with practical education and outreach.”

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