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Strong Institutional Support, Infrastructure Boost Madison Region Food Industries

Blessed with great farms and dairy, cheese and other food production companies, the Madison Region in Wisconsin has gained a worldwide reputation.

By Carol Cowan on May 5, 2014

Madison, WI
Madison / Jeff Adkins

From its central role in value-added food production and packaging to innovation in plant and animal genomics and sustainable energy, agricultural enterprise touches every part of the Madison Region. And the region not only helps feed the world; it feeds its economy by capitalizing on the technical capabilities of its advanced manufacturing and life sciences sectors and superior distribution advantages.

The region has worldwide acclaim for such key products as milk, cheese and beer, and it has a substantial name brand presence with facilities in the region for Colony Brands, Seneca Foods, Frito-Lay, Kraft/Oscar Mayer and Del Monte.

And the list of food-related manufacturers expanding in the region continues to grow. Kerry Ingredients & Flavours expanded its customer center of excellence in Beloit in Rock County in 2012 to include a new Cell Science laboratory, which combines state-of-the-art technology and media supplementation expertise in working with Kerry’s bio-pharma customers and technology partners around the world.

Nearly 50 new jobs and 30,000 square feet were added to the company’s existing 260,000-square-foot facility. Kerry makes taste systems, functional ingredients, and integrated solutions for the global food, beverage and pharmaceutical markets. The customer center includes a consumer nutrition center, flavor labs, and product ideation and customer collaboration suites.

Center for Dairy Research Helps Food Firms

The region has cultivated a supportive government and a motivated infrastructure to help spur milk production, increase cow numbers and expand cheese development. One of the most prominent components of that support network is the Center for Dairy Research on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CDR has gained an international reputation for its applied dairy research. With more than 30 researchers and scientists, CDR assists dairy and cheese-makers from around the globe.

“We are here to assist the dairy industry in development and testing of dairy products to determine their commercial viability and safety,” says Dr. John Lucey, director of CDR and professor of food science at UW.

CDR, which is funded by dairy farmers and food producers, includes an operating dairy plant and the latest cheese- and yogurt-making machinery in the industry. CDR has helped companies introduce new products. Recently, it helped a company develop an Alpine style cheese and assisted the University of Wisconsin in introducing a new sport drink.

CDR was awarded one of seven $1 million “i6” Challenge grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2012 and will use the funds to assist in the development and commercialization of new dairy products suitable for export and development of healthier dairy-based alternatives in school lunches. The funding also will be used to assist startups of new dairy businesses. The center is looking to expand, adding more than 20,000 square feet to modernize its dairy plant and expand facilities for cheese and yogurt processing. Groundbreaking is expected in 2015 with completion in 2018.

The region’s food producers are also helped by several organizations that assist startup and growing firms. The newly created Food to Market organization is a one-stop resource for companies in the food, beverage and dairy business. Food to Market has experts in sales and marketing, finance and other disciplines helping these upstarts.

“We realized that there was no one-stop shop helping these food industry entrepreneurs,” says Rich Scheuerman, food consultant for Food to Market. “The Madison Region is an ideal place to launch a food business, and we are fortunate to have a highly educated workforce here.”

Brewing Big In Madison Region

An excellent example of the successful blend of agriculture and food production in the region is in New Glarus in Green County. Jack Link’s Beef Jerky has been part of the New Glarus community since it was established in 2000, and its operation there employs more than 400 workers.

“New Glarus is a great, friendly community, and we respect and admire the area,” says Patrick Silva, New Glarus plant manager for Jack Link’s.

New Glarus is also home to New Glarus Brewing Co., one of the most successful and established of the breed of craft breweries that are growing in number in the Madison Region.

The brewery is ranked among the top 20 largest producing craft brewers in the nation. The brewery got a big boost in 2008 when owners Deborah and Daniel Carey built a new $21 million facility. They plan more than $11 million in expansions over the next few years.

Another successful craft brewery in the region is Wisconsin Dells Brewing Co. in the community of Wisconsin Dells. Jamie Baertsch is the only female brewmaster in Wisconsin and has worked in the craft brewing business since 2002.

“Craft beers are very popular across the country, and I don’t think we have even begun to tap its potential,” Baertsch says.

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