The Food Innovation Center's in-house staff of industry professionals is dedicated to providing solutions for our clients. Our staff brings a wealth of experience from both the private and public sectors to help solve a variety of business challenges. Simply scroll down to read through all of the biographies.
(856) 459-1900 x4516
Lou is recognized as a leading global authority in food business incubation and innovation, and has extensive business and technology expertise in both entrepreneurial settings and in larger corporate environments. During his 30-year career, he has successfully led cross-functional teams in a wide array of settings, including new business startups, mid-sized companies, global manufacturing corporations, and food industry trade associations.
Lou previously served as President & COO of F&S Produce, a leading regional supplier of fresh-cut produce and value-added refrigerated foods, and earlier as Co-Founder, President and COO of MenuDirect Corporation, a unique health, wellness and medical nutrition company. Earlier in his career, Lou was employed at Campbell’s Soup, ConAgra, and Nestlé, in the areas of business development, product development, quality assurance, and operations. He has also consulted extensively in the food industry, with projects in North and Central America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
Lou is Past-President and Chairman of the New Jersey Food Processors Association, and is currently on its Board of Directors. He was previously President of the New Jersey Business Incubation Network; on the Board and member of the Executive Committee for the National Business Incubation Association; and on the Board and member of the Executive Committee of the Refrigerated Foods Association. In addition, Lou has served at Rutgers University on the Board of Managers for the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station, on the External Advisory Board of the Food Science Department, and on the Advisory Board of Future Farmers of America, NJ Region.
Lou received a MS in Food Science and BS in Microbiology, both from Rutgers University, and has served as an Adjunct Professor at the Rutgers Business School.
Margaret Brennan-Tonetta, Ph.D.
Margaret is Associate Vice President for Economic Development at Rutgers University and Associate Director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Margaret has a distinguished record of developing and leading economic development initiatives at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES).
Margaret is an Agricultural Economist by training and has conducted research focused on value-added business development, marketing and the feasibility of small scale processing. Other research interests include agricultural production economics, economic development strategies, industry cluster development and alternative energy policy. Margaret earned her Ph.D. in Planning and Public Policy, M.S. in Agricultural Economics and B.S. in Economics all from Rutgers.
Associate Director, Client Services
(856) 459-1900 x4514
Diane brings 30 years experience in the food industry. In her current role as Associate Director of Client Services at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center she oversees a team responsible for development and execution of business and technical programs and services, essential to the growth of client companies. Her strong skill sets in business development and marketing have proven to be instrumental to start-up and established companies and cooperatives. As a senior member of the Food Innovation Center since 2002 she has served as a key team member to a highly diversified range of food businesses, some of which include business and strategic planning for the dairy industry, marketing research and marketing planning for the premium livestock industry, funding and marketing strategy for members of the New Jersey agricultural community desiring to expand from commodity sales into value added opportunities. She has also assisted a wide range of start-up companies with customized mentoring in branding, positioning, product development, primary market research, strategic planning, and sales strategies. In addition, she is highly involved with the outreach program of the center, working effectively to partner with local, state and regional constituencies on economic, health and social issues. She is a recent graduate of Leadership Cumberland County and is committed to working across county sectors to enhance the region.
Prior to this position Diane held responsibility for Core Brand growth for food corporations, including Campbell Soup Company and Unilever. She has extensive experience with monitoring consumer segment and food trends in a multitude of food and beverage categories, including, beverages, sauces, soups, breads, confectionary, fresh produce, condiments and prepared meals. Utilizing her vast knowledge in consumer attitudes and behaviors and her strong culinary skill sets, she has participated in bringing many successful products to market including the successful repositioning and expansion of brands, such as Chunky, Swanson, and V8 which catapulted many of these products into multi-year double digit growth. Diane earned her B.S. in Nutrition from Rutgers University and her M.A. in Food and Business from New York University.
Associate Director of Food Technology
(856) 459-1900 x4513
Julie has extensive expertise in the food industry, in a wide array of industries, and brings over 25 years of experiences to the clients she serves. As a senior member of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center (FIC) since 2002, she has supported the development of products that include sauces, jams, beverages, entrees, bakery items, meat items, functional foods, gluten-free foods, organic foods, and a variety of value-added agricultural products.
In her role as Associate Director of Food Technology, Julie oversees an R&D and Culinary Innovation team responsible for technology assessment, product development, process testing and validation, ingredient and packaging selection and specification, nutrition analysis and labeling consultation, and the entire technical process from concept to commercialization.
Julie has always had a passion for food and nutrition. Most recently she worked with Johnson and Johnson, supporting the start up of several nutritional product companies. Previously, she was Director of Food Product Development and Regulatory Affairs for the Wardley Corporation and Hartz Mountain. During her college days, she had the opportunity to work for small local businesses that produced products such as French goat cheese and European style wines.
Julie is a Bridgeton, NJ native, and received a B.S. in Food Science from Rutgers University’s Cook College, and an M.S. in Human Nutrition from University of New Haven.
Donna F Schaffner
Associate Director, Food Safety, Quality Assurance & Training
(856) 459-1900 x4528
Donna is a Food Microbiologist who earned Food Science B.S. and M.S. at the University of Georgia. Her early experiences in the food industry spanned the spectrum from candling eggs to meat cutter and cooking/catering for large events, working as a veterinary technician then a laboratory technician for the UGA Food Science Department. While at UGA she taught lab classes for Environmental Microbiology, Principles of RadioIsotopes and other classes while serving as on the university Radiation Safety Committee. Donna worked as a technical writer and scientific publishing consultant before coming to NJ and joining the Rutgers Office of Continuing Professional Education as a lecturer for a number of classes including Good Manufacturing Practices, HACCP, Microbiology of Food-borne Illness, portions of the Better Process Control School and several others. Her professional career includes time as a HACCP Coordinator and Quality Systems Supervisor for the world’s largest egg processor, corporate HACCP auditor and experience setting up Quality Systems, Recordkeeping, Supplier Audits, USDA & FDA inspections, and Kosher, Organic and SQF certification. Donna taught HACCP and Food Safety classes for Rutgers and several county colleges for 20+ years and delivered customized training programs to food companies throughout the US under State and Federal Department of Labor Programs as well as through her private consulting business.
Since becoming Associate Director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, Donna continues to work with the food industry to solve food safety problems. She leads an exceptional Team of Food Safety professionals who work directly with food processors to assess their existing programs and to get documentation in place for higher-level audits and certifications. An invited speaker on many Food Safety topics to Professional Meetings, Donna’s worked with products ranging from baked goods to flavors and fragrances, pasteurized liquid eggs, canned vegetables and soups, fresh cut produce, frozen pasta, chocolates, ready to eat microwaveable meals, soy products, fully cooked meat and egg entrees, beverages, fresh cut meats, dried dietary supplements, nutritional meal replacement products and dry powder blend ingredients. Her certifications include “Eco Lab Food Plant Sanitarian”, “SQF Practitioner” and current HACCP Train-the-Trainer certificates for Meat & Poultry as well as for FDA Seafood HACCP. She’s recently expanded her training programs to include several Provinces in China that were seeking her expertise to improve their Food Safety record, and has recently become PI for a grant funding Food Security/Protection Training for food processors in New Jersey.
(856) 459-1900 x4515
Regina is a business specialist with 20 years of experience in financial management, budget administration and information technology. Most recently, she was employed with New Jersey Institute of Technology. In that position, Regina was able to use her combined experience in Finance and Information Technology to perform grant receivable analysis, grant and information technology management. Prior to NJIT, Regina worked for many years with the U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit in Finance and Budget Administration. Regina is responsible for the management of financial and administrative activities at the Food Innovation Center.
Regina received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration/Computer Information Systems from Bernard M. Baruch College and Master of Public Administration (MPA) from Rutgers University.
Robert C. Reitnauer Sr.
Quality Assurance & Technical Specialist
(856) 459-1900 x4512
Bob joined the Rutgers Food Innovation Center as Sr. QA and Technical Services Specialist in March 2013. He has 40 years of food experience in a number of food types such as fruit and cream pies, frozen breaded fish, fresh and canned mushroom, steak sauce, pasta sauce, tomato processing, fresh pasta, fresh & frozen pasta & meat entrees, meatballs in sauce, acidified foods, fruit syrups, caramel syrups and potato chips. Bob also has hands on experience in various thermal processing types including canning ( metal & glass), retorts (static, rotating and continuous), tube-in tube, hot fill & hold, modified atmosphere in flexible packaging and rigid containers.
Bob received an Associates Degree in Food & Dairy Science from the State University of New York and a Bachelors Degree in Food Science from Delaware Valley College. He is certified in HACCP, Safe Quality Food (SQF) Practitioner and Better Process Control School ( Penn State). He has also developed various levels of Quality Systems and Supplier Certification Programs and has conducted Organic, GMP, HACCP and Supplier Approval Audits in the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America. Bob is a 40 year Quality Professional that has held quality positions with many of the leading brands/manufactuers of retail and industrial products for US and foreign markets.
Senior Program Coordinator and Client Services Specialist
(856) 459-1900 x4511
As Senior Program Coordinator and Client Services Specialist at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center (FIC), Sho is responsible for the design, development and management of business and technical mentoring projects for FIC clients. This includes providing strategic business advice and consultation, management of client inquires, and providing client management and customer service to each client of the FIC. Sho typically serves as the first point of contact for all potential new clients, and provides an assessment of client needs and the prioritization into the Rutgers Food Innovation incubator program. Sho also supports our efforts in business training, entrepreneur ideation sessions, quantitative research and data analysis at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center and our technology and website needs.
Sho is a graduate of New Jersey Agricultural Leadership Development Program (NJALDP) and is passionate about all things New Jersey. He received a B.S. in Environmental Business Economics and M.S. in Food and Business Economics, both from Rutgers University, and he is currently a PhD candidate in Public Affairs, Community Development, with focus on entrepreneurship, also at Rutgers University.
(856) 459-1900 x4510
Jean has extensive experience providing administrative support for businesses in the public and private sector. Prior to working at FIC, Jean was Administrative Assistant at the Rutgers School of Social Work in Camden, where she provided administrative and technical support to the entire department, developed and maintained computer databases, created procedures and reports, advised students on the curriculum, and represented the school at recruiting events and fairs. Previously she worked as an Associate Technical Writer at Cendant Mortgage, where she was responsible for the development and maintenance of end-user systems for IT applications, and an Administrative Assistant where she provided support to 30 personnel in the department. Earlier in her career, Jean worked at Reliance Insurance Group, where she was Executive Assistant and provided secretarial and administrative support to the President/CEO and Executive Vice President of the Reliance Surety Company. She has excellent computer skills including proficiency in MS Access 2007, MS Excel 2007, MS Outlook 2007, MS PowerPoint 2007, MS Word 2007, Lotus 123 for Windows, Lotus Notes, RoboHelp x4.0, Visio, and WordPerfect 9.
Tom Orton, PhD
Department of Plant Biology and Pathology
Tom has been involved extensively with the development and management of programs for the production, harvesting, handling, and packaging of processed vegetable crops. He was Senior Director for DNA Plant Technology Corporation from 1986-1994 and worked closely with strategic partners such as Campbell Soup, Kraft, and DuPont.
A geneticist and breeder by training, Tom has served on the faculties of two land grant universities, UC Davis and Rutgers. He was the Chair of the Department of Extension Specialists and Assistant Director of Extension at Rutgers from 1995-2002, and is currently Professor with tenure in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, School of Biological and Environmental Sciences . Academically, Tom has published over 100 books and research papers, and has been invited to present his research results internationally. He has served on scientific journal editorial boards, grant review panels, and national advisory committees. In addition to his interests in plant breeding and production and post harvest systems, Tom is also involved with exchange programs between the U.S. and Central Asia.
Tom received his Ph.D. in Botany and Genetics from Michigan State University in 1979, and B.S. in Biology in 1973. He looks forward to bringing his experience and abilities to the FIC team.
Dot Hall Certified Food Scientist, and Product and Process Development Specialist
Dot was formerly the Senior Director of Product Innovation and Application Excellence at Campbell Soup Company, and has over 30 years experience in the food industry. She has worked in leadership positions in Product Development and Quality Assurance at major global food companies.. During the course of her career at Campbell’s, Dot led the development work on all Campbell’s Soup brands, included Red & White, Chunky, and Select Harvest Soups; V8 beverages; and foodservice frozen soups and entrees. She has developed and commercialized several successful new product lines both in the US and internationally. Dot served as the company’s first business quality leader, a liaison position between the business unit, R&D and manufacturing in a role that established quality processes and protocols for both internal operations and at co-manufacturers. Dot also worked closely with CSC’s Strategic Ingredient R&D group and Procurement to evaluate and select their core flavor suppliers.
Dot started her career at General Foods as a food technologist and supported the development and introduction of RTE Jell-O Puddings and Crystal Light powdered soft drinks as well as supporting the existing Refreshment Beverage brands. Dot is an Institute of Food Technologists Certified Food Scientist and received a BS in Nutrition from the University of Delaware and completed the course work for a MS in Food Science at Rutgers University.
Thomas Helsel, PCIII, CEC, CRC
Executive Research Chef and Culinary Specialist
Tom has over 30 years of experience in the food industry, serving in senior culinary and research positions at international food corporations, contract foodservice operations, and leading restaurants. He has successfully integrated a strong culinary discipline with food science, and is skilled in product innovation, design, formulation, process engineering, technology, commercialization, launch, and optimization.
Most recently, Tom was Executive Research Chef at Ready Pac Foods for their national operations. In this role, he was responsible for development of new product formulations, leading and directing customer presentations and ideation sessions, providing corporate and customer trend information research, and providing culinary training and education to team members. Product line development included both branded and co-packed products, including fresh, farm to table, hot foods in frozen and refrigerated format, refrigerated assembly, film and ridged packaging formats, modified atmosphere applications and commissary operations.
Previously, Tom was Senior Research Chef at Campbell Soup Company where he was the culinary lead developer for US Soups. Tom and his team regularly utilized retort, direct steam injection, tube-in-tube cookers, and other sophisticated equipment at both the lab and pilot plant levels, converting culinary preparations to manufacturing processes. He became skilled in public relations, appearances, and communications, providing high-level presentations and communications with R&D leaders, senior executives, the board of directors, and company owners. Earlier in his career, Tom served in management and culinary positions at various restaurants and food service management companies.
Tom has achieved dual certifications as Certified Executive Chef and Professional Chef Level III from the American Culinary Federation and the Culinary Institute of America, and is recognized as a Certified Research Chef from the Research Chefs Association. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America with an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts and a Bachelors degree in Culinary Management, in which he graduated with a certificate of recognition. He also has an Associates of Letters, Arts and Sciences, from The Pennsylvania State University with undergraduate study in Music Education.
Plant and Process Engineering Specialist
(856) 459-1900 x4529
George has extensive experience in plant engineering, processing and in new plant construction for USDA and FDA inspected facilities. He brings his expertise to the Food Innovation Center and its clients in areas that range from concept to commercialization, and include: plant, product and process design; equipment specifications and troubleshooting; packaging design and development; productivity improvements; systems for electrical, HVAC, pneumatic, steam, gas, refrigeration, and waste; programs for preventative maintenance; and equipment installation and employee training.
George has managed the plant renovations or new construction of nearly fifty food facilities during his career, including cheese, egg and dairy processing operations; bakery plants, frozen dough, pizza, danish, pies, cakes, and quiches; pasta processing plants with fresh, frozen, or shelf stable products; fish processing; meat processing plants (including ground beef, hamburgers, frankfurters, bologna, top rounds, pastrami, sausage, bacon, etc); confectionery plants; and ethnic food plants.
During his career, he has served as Director of Operations at Freedom Industries, Plant Engineer at Asher Brothers (division of Beatrice Foods), and Plant Engineer at Howard Johnson’s Commissary. George has his BS degree in Industrial Engineering from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Janis Hertz Grover
Janis is an International Brand manager with 30 years’ experience leading domestic and multinational manufacturers in the specialty and natural foods markets. She has guided hundred of products from conception to launch and then managed national and international sales and marketing programs. Janis has been a key note speaker on the US specialty food industry throughout Europe, Latin America and the Middle East and serves on a number of industry boards. She has effectively nurtured multiple brands ranging from products just entering the market to major brands needing assistance expanding established sales and distribution.
Janis has experience managing operational roles in both branded and private label at Liberty Richter, Haddon House Food Distribution, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Food Stores (A&P), Sysco Food Service and Bri-Al International. Janis has travelled to over 30 countries sourcing new products, inspecting factories and guiding international brands from the ethnic channel into specialty. She conducted training programs on building new US brand strategies in Ecuador, El Salvador, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Brazil as part of a USAID state department contract. Recognized as an expert in new product development, market research, purchasing, labeling, packaging, distribution, marketing, branding and training. Janis has broad experience working with US and international companies to build market focused product strategies and identify key sales opportunities. She is able to guide brand specific trade spending, promotional budgets, sales plan execution and identify opportunities in grocery, natural, specialty, clubs, drug, general merchandise, convenience and other non-traditional retailers.
Janis is President of Janis H Grover, LLC, a multifunctional consulting company. In that role she is able to apply her broad experience to addressing the needs of multiple clients. Janis has an MBA in Marketing from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a BA from Rutgers University.
Esther Luongo Psarakis
Esther Luongo Psarakis brings over 30 years experience. President of Foodpreneur ™, an, educational consultancy, she saw a need to better address the educational needs of entrepreneurial food companies, creating a comprehensive curriculum for launching a specialty foods company. She also works with established international companies seeking to launching products in the US.
As an advisor with the NJ Small Business Development Centers, she primarily focuses on food-centric companies. Her strong skill set on mentoring, concept development, business plan and sales strategies has been applied to a wide range of companies. Examples include; bakery products, baby food, ethnic foods, healthy beverages, popcorn, jams, dips, and vegan foods. One of her business plans was selected for publication in the latest edition of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans”
As an entrepreneur, Esther launched Taste of Crete, a gourmet food company which imported artisan Greek food products and created a line of Greek cookies and fresh prepared meals which sold at King’s, Whole Foods, and Shoprite. Its products had been featured in The New York Times, New Jersey Monthly, Star Ledger, Food & Wine, Saveur, Better Homes & Gardens, USA Today, Huffington Report, and Philadelphia Inquirer.
Esther has been a speaker for a variety of organizations, including the Specialty Food Association, been featured in The New York Times, New Jersey Monthly, USA Today and Huffington Report, appeared on FOX News, ABC, Channel 12, Ebru TV, WSOU 89.5 and Martha Stewart Radio. Some awards include, NJSBDC Success Award, Somerset County Business Partnership Small Business Economic Vitality Award, and Sam’s Club Emerging Women Entrepreneur.
Esther held leadership roles in international sales, strategic planning, training and account management with American Express and Citigroup. She has a BA in Communications from Douglass College, Rutgers University, is a graduate of the Rutgers Graduate School of Business Entrepreneurial Pioneers Initiative Program and holds a Certificate in International Market Entry from the US Department of Commerce.