By Rick Lingle, Packaging Digest
October 25, 2017
Managed by prominent industry leaders, startup Solve for Food’s strategy relies on microwave-assisted thermal sterilization (MATS) to revolutionize the packaged food market.
Developments continue to heat up in the fast-changing packaged foods market for a number of food preservation processes, not least of which is an escalation in microwave-assisted thermal sterilization (MATS). We’ve reported on the technology twice, both centered on the efforts of first adopter 915 Labs (see Food packaging identified for new MATS processing, published June 2015, and Cutting-edge news on MATS processing and packaging, published September 2017).
Now there’s big news from a new player that’s taking MATS in a complimentary new direction tapping the expertise of industry veterans who see not just the potential in the technology, but the efficient reality of its utility for higher-quality packaged foods. And its headquarters location is as intriguing as its management.
That is food processing innovation startup Solve For Food (SFF), based in Bentonville, AR, which announced last month that IV Ventures, LLC, agreed to be the initial investor of the first Food Innovation Center. SFF’s leadership team, comprised of consumer packaged goods industry veterans from Walmart, Sam’s Club and Procter & Gamble, announced last spring a goal to raise $13 million in capital to break ground on the startup’s first Food Innovation Center (FIC). The center will provide established food companies and startups with concept-to-consumption food production and innovation services using the revolutionary MATS food preservation technology.
“We really believe in the Solve For Food mission and strategy to develop more nutritious packaged foods,” said Brandon Ivie, president of IV Ventures, LLC. “Their approach will revolutionize the way the industry produces, and the market consumes, packaged foods, and we share their passion for game-changing technology. The value they will provide to the industry is core to our own mission.”
The 20,000-square-foot center to be located in northwest Arkansas will feature product innovation kitchens and a MATS-30 commercial scale food production system capable of producing up to 10 million packages per year. Consumer packaged goods brands and food startups alike will have access to SFF’s concept-to-consumption strategy services to help companies develop and produce healthy, nutritious, clean label, shelf-stable packaged foods.
“We really haven’t seen much in the way of innovation in shelf stable food production and processing in 200 years,” said Solve For Food President and Chief Executive Officer, Greg Spragg. “By pairing our concept-to-consumption strategy services with access to MATS technology, we’re lowering the barrier to entry for the consumer packaged goods industry to make the leap to a better product for consumers.” Spragg addressed Packaging Digest’s questions about the technology.
“By pairing our concept-to-consumption strategy
services with access to MATS technology, we’re
lowering the barrier to entry for the consumer
packaged goods industry to make the leap to a
better product for consumers.”
– Greg Spragg, president and CEO, Solve For Food
With the investment secured, what are the specific plans for the funds?
Spragg: In addition to the initial capital to construct our first Food Innovation Center, this investment will allow SFF to reach prospective clients and investors with our story through a concentrated marketing and public relations effort.
What is the expected staffing for the FIC?
Spragg: The center is expected to provide 25-30 high paying professional and skilled jobs, from food scientists, lab techs, technology experts, to culinary professionals, to systems operators. The center will be managed by an experienced food manufacturing professional.
What does Solve for Foods’ use of MATS allow it to do?
Spragg: SFF will not license MATS, but will acquire systems for use in its Food Innovation Centers. SFF uses patented technology to efficiently produce food that’s clean label, shelf stable and tastes better. Co-manufacturers like SFF will help companies adopt MATS by assisting them with product development and small-scale launches to rapidly iterate new food brands that appeal to consumers today. Once they have launched MATS-made products, companies will be able to continue co-manufacturing with SFF or to scale up production with their own MATS systems.
We’re familiar with 915 Labs…what are 915 Labs’ Mike Locatis’ duties as an SFF advisor?
Spragg: Mike has a wealth of experience in growth stage enterprises and an understanding of food insecurity, globally. As CEO of 915 Labs, he brings insight into system capabilities and avenues for growth. He is working to build an ecosystem for MATS around the world. Here in the U.S., there are many food companies looking for MATS co-manufacturing that are potential SFF clients.
What are the main differences between 915 Labs and Solve For Food?
Spragg: 915 Labs holds the exclusive, perpetual worldwide license for the MATS and MATS technologies, including for the MATS-30 production system capable of processing 30 packages per minute or up to 10 million packages per year. The company manufactures and sells MATS systems and support services, including packaging solutions, to food companies around the world.
SFF is a purpose-built innovation services company that will purchase a MATS-30 from 915 Labs for its Center. From foodpreneur to “big food” established brands, we will help brands go from concept to consumption with combined manufacturing and go-to-market services under one roof.
Solve For Food will provide the following services to food companies:
• Recipe and product development;
• Co-manufacturing, including white and private labeling for existing food companies and food startups;
• Distribution of packaged foods to retail locations and through ecommerce fulfillment.
Other services include lab testing, FDA process authority, consumer sensory and market validation, go to and product placement services. We aim to be a full-service partner to the industry, helping brands get products from concept to consumption.
What packaging formats that will be used or tested?
Spragg: Custom packaging can also be developed, but current MATS capabilities are sealed plastic trays and pouches including a portfolio of 6 stock packages available including single-serve trays of 8.5oz to 13.9oz and a 10.5-oz pouch.
Additional package types will be available early next year, including 78.5-oz and 96-oz foodservice trays, spouted pouches and dual-ovenable packaging.
What is the fee arrangement?
Spragg: Fees will be menu driven and determined based on client needs. We have several interested parties ranging for domestic and global food producers to academia and food packaging companies.
What’s the idea of the regional centers, will they be “cookie cutter” facilities based on the Arkansas model?
Spragg: The SFF Food Production Center is designed to be a reproducible, data-driven, innovative food manufacturing facility. The SFF Food Production Center replaces industrial-age food factories with state-of-the-art systems that combine innovative food development, production and distribution capabilities at the same location.
The NWA facility becomes a Center of Excellence for recipe, formulation, product development and small-scale production of packaged foods for distribution and export for international consumer testing. This Center of Excellence can also host national food delegations and consortia activities and eventually, facilitate the transfer of knowledge and a template for replicating Solve for Food centers globally.