Solve For Food plans to build an innovation center in Northwest Arkansas aimed at bringing the industry into the new age.
Solve For Food is a new food processing innovation startup headed by some longtime food and beverage veterans. When former EVP of Sam’s Club Greg Spragg was approached by some of his former colleagues to be president and CEO of Solve For Food, he was happy to do it. Spragg, who retired in 2008, saw the food startup as a tremendous opportunity for helping small, medium and large enterprises to process food, develop recipes and new products.
“Big food companies have become less and less nimble to move quickly into new technology and new ideas,” he says. “Many of them are purchasing smaller, more innovative companies to create their innovation.”
He says Solve for Food offers a way to lead the industry into a new age of food processing. The company is seeking financing for its first Food Innovation Center, which will provide processors concept-to-consumption food production and innovation services using microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS, food preservation technology.
MATS is a patented sterilization method for ready-to-eat foods offered by 915 Labs. The process was created by funding from the US Army interested in concepts providing quickly prepared, nutritious and flavorful foods to troops in the field. The resulting technology heats packaged food through microwave energy at a frequency of 915 megahertz.
“Every package is heated from the inside out, but it’s also heated from the edges in because the same high pressure water bath exists here as it does with retort processing,” says Spragg.
The difference, in part, is that the food is only subjected to that heat for six to eight minutes, as opposed to an hour or more using retort. Also, the package goes immediately into a cold-water bath to retain the food’s nutrient value, color, flavor and texture, and no additional preservatives are needed.
“There’s been a pursuit, fueled by consumer demand, for clean-label, convenient, shelf-stable, packaged food,” Spragg says. “In this process, what you end up with is whatever went in coming out with no additives and no added sodium. It’s a high quality food in a shelf-stable format.”
By providing food companies access to the new MATS technology, Spragg says Solve For Food’s center will take away the risk associated with buying expensive, new equipment before it’s proven to work with specific products.
“The challenge for 915 Labs, which has the exclusive rights to the technology patent and has added 20-plus additional patents onto a commercialized unit, is there’s a significant install base of retort equipment in the US that are fully depreciated assets,” he says.
However, Solve For Foods’ Food Innovation Center will have research and development kitchens, commercial kitchens, consumer sensory labs, a packaging lab and a small incubator space for food startups. Also, the center will have the capacity to do co-manufacturing with the MATS 30 equipment, which will allow up to 10 million packages to be processed a year. Future plans call for an additional machine to eventually double the capacity. Recently, IV Ventures, LLC agreed to be the initial investor of the first Food Innovation Center.
“We think this technology will open up a new world of possibilities, where creative folks can come in and say, ‘What can we do now?’” Spragg says.