A new pilot-plant in North Carolina is working to make the state a hub for plant-based food processing. The North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL) hopes to keep locally grown ingredients in the state for manufacturing and provide research and business support to encourage plant-based food producers to locate in North Carolina.
“Novel foods being developed today offer options beyond steamed, sautéed, or roasted vegetables [to maintain a healthy diet]…[plant-based products]…enable the industry to offer cleaner-labeled, safer, and more natural ingredients”, says Bill Aimutis, Executive Director of NCFIL. The new lab hopes to help clients–from starting entrepreneurs to established multinational companies–bring their plant-based food ideas to life.
Investors in the state have been more interested in investing in technology as opposed to product ideas, says Aimutis. NCFIL aims to attract clients with ideas to develop plant-based products more attractive to consumers, emphasizing the opportunity to improve upon plant-based food flavors, textures, and nutritional value. Through the Lab’s innovation services and partnerships across the state, NCFIL hopes to encourage clients to build their plant-based processing facilities in North Carolina and use the state’s raw materials.
In order to maintain the steady-growth of the plant-based food industry and increase competitiveness with conventional meat, cutting costs and efficient production methods are key, says a report by the Good Food Institute. “Without giving away any secrets, we believe there are some established technologies that have not been thoroughly explored yet by the plant-based meat companies that exist today,” Aimutis tells Food Tank.
NCFIL and partners also hope to boost farmers’ involvement in plant-based initiatives. “Technology isn’t always the answer to cut costs,” says Aimutis, “the use of plant materials that may have little commercial value today, will be the cost reduction tools of the future.”