Potential new food product developers from across the state learned the process of creating, packaging and launching a new food product at the University of Georgia’s New Food Business Workshop, held Oct. 6-7 on the university’s Griffin Campus.
UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences faculty, Georgia Department of Agriculture experts and food industry leaders taught the workshop.
A former leader of PepsiCo Inc. and current new director of the Food Product and Innovation Commercialization Center (FoodPIC) at UGA Griffin, Kirk Kealey told participants that their food products should leave consumers wanting more. “You want people to taste your product and say, ‘This is the best-tasting version I’ve ever had,’” he said.
UGA food scientist Anand Mohan encouraged workshop participants to consider all that is involved in launching a new food product before taking on the venture. A UGA Cooperative Extension food processing and safety specialist, Mohan specializes in enhancing the value and ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products.
“Are you really up to what you think you want to do?” he said. “People say they want a natural product, but sometimes preservatives will help you go a long way. Sometimes you have to add things to keep your product safe and keep molds, yeasts and bacteria away.”
Workshop participants also heard from Deana Bibb, owner of Proper Pepper Small Batch Pimento Cheese and a 2015 Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest winner. Bibb attended the workshop in March 2014 and claims it was the catalyst for her product launch.
“I learned from this workshop that the container you store your product in can also contribute to the shelf life,” said Bibb. “Surprisingly, you may find your product lasts longer in a cheaper container.”
Bibb encouraged the group to include shelf-life testing for their products. “It took a month-and-a-half, but I didn’t feel like I could go into the market until I knew for sure,” she said. “I needed my dairy product’s shelf life to be at least 22 days.”
The class was also provided with an overview of regulations and current food safety issues from Natalie Adan of the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Division.
The class included some food product veteran entrepreneurs, with products already on the market. Attorney Ken Teal of LaGrange, Georgia, runs Swamp Dust spice company. Jennifer Hovis, of Barnesville, Georgia’s Honeywood Farms, currently sells organic vegetables, beef, pork, poultry and eggs and now wants to build a commercial kitchen.
Others were contemplating a wide variety of food ventures: a juice from organic produce, organic soups and smoothies, a botanical soda, a dried seaweed product imported from the Philippines, a carbonated beverage for the West African market, a barbecue sauce from a family recipe, products for those with food allergies and a soy-free soy sauce.
Ken Vickers, a mechanic for Delta Air Lines, hopes to market a hot sauce made from peppers he grows on his farm in Woolsey, near Fayetteville, Georgia.
“I grow the peppers, smoke them and age the sauce for a year. I’ve got 25 gallons brewing in my basement right now,” he said. “I was really clueless when I started. I set my goals low because I didn’t know how to go about mass-producing (my hot sauce) to put on grocery store shelves. After this workshop, I can attempt putting it in grocery stores.”
Hahira, Georgia farmer Steve Taylor wants to bring some of his family’s recipes to market. “Some are super-healthy and some will kill you because they taste so good,” said Taylor, who, with his wife, Gayle, makes kettle corn for festivals and hopes to take that to the retail market.
Stephanie Helmig of Statham, Georgia, attended the workshop to gather information for her father and a group of investors from China who want to make a Chinese food product in the U.S., then sell it here and export it to China.
“The workshop was very informative. I will suggest they come to the next class in March in Athens, (Georgia,)” she said. “My dad and his business partner want to talk to Dr. Kealey. He seems very interested in developing businesses. We have the money, but we don’t have a home for our business. I’m encouraging them to come to Georgia.”
Each participant leaves the workshop with a training manual compiled by experts in the UGA Extension food science program. As the leader of the workshop series, Mohan said the speakers’ shared expertise and the educational resources in the manual are “invaluable resources” for new food business operators.
“Small businesses are the key foundation of our nation’s economic development,” he said. “New food entrepreneurs who are trying to get into the food market are an essential part of Georgia’s economic growth.”