Incubator Facility Overview
The Rutgers Food Innovation Center incubator facility houses shared-use food processing space for a broad array of products and processes, marketing capabilities and technical laboratories, distance learning and educational programming, and administrative space for staff as well as clients. The business incubator facility enables new companies to be formed, and provides a vast array of resources and technologies to existing food companies as well. This facility is designed for use by farmers and cooperatives, startup food companies, existing small and mid-sized food companies, and retail and foodservice establishments who are assisted from concept to commercialization, and enabled to have new product prototypes tested and evaluated, and to literally have their products produced in a state-of-the-art food processing facility that meets the regulatory standards of local, state and federal (both FDA and USDA) agencies. A full spectrum of processors can benefit, from fledgling startups in need of basic small scale processing capacity to sophisticated businesses in need of pilot or test market processing for the development of new products. The small operator gains access to equipment and services they could not likely afford to develop or buy on their own. Larger processors are able to minimize their capital risks associated with new products and processes in test market, scale up or commercialization phases. (scroll over the image below to view facility photos)
The food incubator facility layout includes a Shared-Use Processing Area and a Client Services Area. Further information about these two areas is as follows:
- The Shared-Use Processing Area (highlighted in green and blue colors on the diagram above) enables a broad range of value-added agricultural and food products to be produced such as fresh-cut vegetables and fruits, jams, jellies, soups, sauces, beverages, pies, cakes, breads, seasoning blends, entrees, side dishes, etc.
The shared-use facility is comprised of three processing areas, in which products can be manufactured either directly by the client or on a contracted (co-packed) basis. Fees for processing are dependant on the equipment and services that are required for production, and are charged on an hourly basis. Some of the components of the shared-used processing area include:
The “cold process” area is designed for preparation and processing of produce in the raw state. Activities include post harvest preparation, cleaning, peeling, size reduction, and packaging, all in a controlled environment with temperature control ranging from ambient to as low as 40 oF. This enables new opportunities for New Jersey farmers, allowing the production of, for example: peeled whole vacuum packed potatoes; extended-shelf-life sliced apples, peaches or tomatoes; and precut green or fruit salads for retail or foodservice sale. Value-added produce can be processed and packaged utilizing a variety of technologies, enabling an extended shelf life for regional or even national distribution. The fresh-cut produce may also be used for further processing, as an ingredient, for example, in the hot process area of the plant as well in the production of soups, stews, cider, pies, etc.
The “hot process” area presents an extensive range of process capabilities including blanching, steaming, cooking, roasting, baking, and liquid filling and labeling. This enables a wide array of products packaged for retail and foodservice sale, such as: beverages, soups, sauces, stews, salsas, jam and jelly, cheese, yogurt, grilled and roasted vegetables, and meals for catering functions. A bottling line and cup/tray filling line allow for automated production.
The “dry process” area is devoted to equipment used for producing items such as fruit pies, breads, cookies and other baked goods, as well as seasoning blends, and dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
The “cold assembly” area allows for packaging of refrigerated, frozen or ambient products and consists of a wide variety of equipment such as horizontal form-fill-seal machines for modified atmosphere packaging, tray and cup packaging and sealing lines, labeling and shrink wrapping equipment, etc.
- The Client Services Area (highlighted in gold and red colors on the diagram above) allows for both marketing and technology expertise and services to be provided to clients of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center. Clients are assisted from concept development to commercialization of their products by staff of the Food Innovation Center, in addition to collaborating scientists and researchers from School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, research centers of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station network, and a wide network of collaborating regional, state, federal, national and international agencies, associations, consultants, and others.
The Client Services Area includes a Product Development Research Kitchen and Sensory Evaluation Center, Microbiology and Analytical Laboratories, Consumer Research and Focus Group Area, Training and Education Conference Rooms and Library, and Office and Administrative Support. More information on these areas is as follows:
Product Development Research Kitchen – This Research Kitchen performs basic research and bench-top formulation development so that clients can develop cost-effective and technically feasible products, and manufacture them with assurance of safety and quality. Staff assists clients in areas such as:
- Product development from culled, undervalued, and surplus agricultural commodities in order to create value-added products from lower grade raw materials that may otherwise be destroyed
- Nutraceutical and functional food product development
- Specialty product development and manufacturing, such as organic, gluten-free, kosher, halal and other needs
- Testing for formulation hurdle technology development, evaluating acidulants, antimicrobial agents, antioxidant systems, chemical wash aids and other treatments for vegetable and fruit sanitation and other needs
- Testing for thermal processing hurdle technology development, evaluating hot fill/quick chill processing, sous vide post pasteurization, and other technologies
- Conducting of testing for clients, such as instructions for product preparation in a standard oven, convection oven, and/or a variety of microwave ovens
- Sensory Evaluation Center – Sensory evaluation booths are located adjacent to the product development research kitchen. These taste panel facilities are available for food processors desiring scientifically conducted, unbiased evaluations of their food products.
- Microbiology Laboratory - The Microbiology Laboratory conducts analysis of finished products, raw materials, and environmental areas for routine required testing, and assists in the training of clients regarding sanitary practices. Shelf life studies, at different storage temperatures, are conducted for client products, and quantify the impacts of preservation technologies that are utilized.
- Analytical Laboratory - This laboratory performs routine food chemistry testing, including analysis for pH, titratable acidity, salt content, solids content, brix, colorimetry, and other methods deemed helpful to clients. In addition, this lab conducts nutrition analysis testing, and provides guidance to clients concerning compliance of packaging labels, as required by FDA, USDA, exporting and importing authorities, and others. It also assists clients with package design, including primary, secondary and tertiary packaging needs, pallet configurations, etc.
- Consumer Research and Focus Group Area – The Food Innovation Center has the capabilities to conduct consumer research and focus groups, in which an opinion-seeking panel discussion is created and where consumers are asked to share their ideas about new products or services. Its purposes can be varied - including brainstorming new ideas; tasting new products; and researching advertisements and marketing messages. Groups usually consist of 8 to 12 people who join in a discussion led by a trained moderator.
- Training and Education Conference Room - The Training and Education Area is outfitted with state of the art teleconferencing and distance learning capabilities linking the Food Innovation Center facility to the main campus of Rutgers University and satellite locations throughout rural southern New Jersey, and elsewhere in the nation as well. This provides the opportunity for local residents and businesses to participate in college courses and continuing education courses, which may otherwise be unavailable in these rural areas. In addition, it serves as a focal point for community activities.
- Resource Center and Library - The library is a resource to staff and clients alike, providing access to extensive business and technical information. In addition two computer workstations enable client research and access to the Rutgers University library system.
- Administrative Support Area and Client and Staff Offices – The Food Innovation Center provides office areas that are rented inexpensively to clients. This way, clients have the option to move both their processing and administrative functions into the Center’s facility if desired. All of the client offices are fully furnished, and clients have access to the facility receptionist, telephone system, photocopying machines, and other services.
The cost to construct and equip the Food Innovation Center incubator facility was approximately $8 million. This has been entirely funded by grants from federal, state, and local sources, which is a demonstration of the tremendous support for this project.
The location for this incubator is within the Cumberland Empowerment Zone and the Bridgeton Urban Enterprise Zone, and it is believed that this incubator will have significant economic impacts to the City of Bridgeton and the entire Southern New Jersey region. To view pictures of incubator facility construction progress please click here.
Funding to the Rutgers Food Innovation Center to date, towards its capital and operating expenses, has included the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Economic Development Administration, the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, the Cumberland Empowerment Zone, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, and the City of Bridgeton, New Jersey. The Food Innovation Center is currently pursuing additional grant opportunities, and meeting with private sector corporations, equipment suppliers, foundations and philanthropists to support its program during the 3-5 year program ahead, at which time it feels its program will be financially self-sustaining.