To capture more of the business involved in processing agricultural products and to further grow the state's agricultural economy, a new pilot plant facility focused on food manufacturing opened in 2019 at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.
In 2017, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded $2.2 million to provide equipment for the North Carolina State University Food Innovation Lab that is located at the N.C. Research Campus. The North Carolina Food Innovation Lab is a facility that focuses on plant-based foods for new product innovation preferably using crops from within North Carolina.
"There is a gap between customers using commissary kitchens and when they have enough volume to work with co-manufacturers,"
said Bill Aimutis, Executive Director, NC Food Innovation Lab. "We fill that gap with the ability to process the equivalent of 1,000 pounds per day of fresh fruits and vegetables."
The staff at the NC Food Innovation Lab have worked with entrepreneurs and businesses to help grow food manufacturing. The lab became fully operational in November 2021.
"The NC Food Innovation Lab has connected with a total of 81 North Carolina-based companies and 161 national or international companies,"
said Aimutis. "GNT, a natural food color company from Europe, has committed to build a facility in Gaston County employing 45 people. The Food Innovation Lab was involved early in the due diligence and in recruitment."
Golden LEAF funding provided the NC Food Innovation Lab with pilot scale food and ingredient processing equipment.
"The support from Golden LEAF has enabled the opportunity to offer North Carolina and other entrepreneurs the capability to produce small quantities of their products to show investors and test markets their innovative concepts,"
said Aimutis. "Perhaps more importantly the ability for the lab to use the same equipment as could be found in large contract manufacturing organizations has saved our customers time and money when they scaled up their products."
The NC Food Innovation Lab is connected to many of the business recruitment entities in the state.
"NC Food Innovation Lab is engaged with EDPNC when they have a potential company investigating North Carolina for building a new facility,"
said Aimutis. "We have had discussions with the North Carolina Chamber and given presentations to groups in the past year that had direct ties to North Carolina industry and entrepreneurs."
The NC Food Innovation Lab's client list is growing, as outreach is continuing to farmers and rural entrepreneurs.
Services offered by the lab include product research and development; pilot plant production; training and workshops on food safety and best practices; and food industry consulting. To learn more about the NC Food Innovation Lab, visit https://www.ncfoodinnovationlab.org/