–by Dan Lemke
From multinational corporations to individual entrepreneurs, Minnesota is home to a broad range of food companies. A 2010 report from the University of Minnesota’s Food Industry Center showed the state had more than 2,300 food businesses. The economic contribution from those companies is well into the billions of dollars.
Having that number of companies, many of which rely upon Minnesota-grown commodities and ingredients, presents several challenges and opportunities. To help AURI and its clients learn more about what it takes to succeed and to identify opportunities, AURI collaborates with experts from some of the state’s leading food businesses.
The AURI Food Industry Thought Leaders team consists of food industry experts who are dedicated to exploring market opportunities and industry challenges. Thought Leaders influence AURI research initiatives, help identify solutions and opportunities as well as provide staff and entrepreneurs with a network of a diverse cross-section of Minnesota’s food industry.
“We’ve conducted research on innovation networks, like the food industry thought leaders to bring people together to work for the greater good,” says Nan Larson, director of AURI innovative networks. “We recognize industry networks can positively influence the food area.”
AURI pulled together leaders from a broad spectrum of food businesses for an initial gathering nearly a year ago. Larson says AURI was looking for at least 10 committed leaders to join the team and to provide insight. That mission has been accomplished.
Bill Aimutis is the global director of external innovation for Cargill, Inc., and is part of the Food Industry Thought Leaders team. He says the group can help support AURI on food trends, provide advice on market niches, how to enter the supply chain, and provide educational resources on food processing and food safety.
“The food industry is in an interesting evolution as consumers seek less processing, cleaner labels, and more localized production of their food,” Aimutis says. “Small start-up companies will have many opportunities to serve these consumers, but they often lack the knowledge on food processing, food safety and distribution into the supply chain that large companies have developed over many years.”
Food Industry Thought Leaders members include researchers, grocery providers, small food companies, global food manufacturers as well as meat and dairy providers. This broad expertise
helps AURI identify opportunities while providing valuable information to the organization’s many food-based clients.
“This group helps AURI meet the needs of the industry and share valuable information with our clients,” Larson adds.
Minnesota has a strong agricultural and food industry presence. Tapping into the expertise of the state’s food industry leaders gives entrepreneurs and AURI clients a valuable local ingredient.
“The mission AURI is undertaking with small food start-ups is important to stimulate the state’s economy, provide opportunities for entrepreneurs and provide a safe product to the public,” Aimutis adds. “At the end of the day, this contributes to our need to double our food supply by the year 2040 to meet a growing global population’s need for food.”
The Food Industry Thought Leaders team is another way AURI helps the state’s food businesses and entrepreneurs position themselves for success.