Pike County High School STEM interns Dylan Blohm and Megan Pitts make and serve samples of bite-sized cheesecakes topped with Georgia-grown blueberries and pecans to FoodPIC building dedication attendees during the building tour following the ceremony. Below, FoodPIC Director Kirk Kealey (left) and Dick Phillips, UGA food science and technology professor emeritus and former FoodPIC director, develop and launch new food products through their work at the center. Photos by Sharon Dowdy Cruse
University of Georgia scientists are better equipped to help businesses launch new food products thanks to the opening of the Food Technology Center, which houses the Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center (FoodPIC), on the UGA Griffin campus.
The $7.4 million project was funded with $3.5 million from the state of Georgia and additional funds provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Griffin-Spalding Development Authority and UGA. The state-of-the-art, 14,500-square-foot facility was dedicated on Jan. 30.
“The Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center is an outstanding example of the University of Georgia using its resources to help strengthen our state’s economy,” UGA President Jere W. Morehead said. “We are grateful for the support we have received for the new Food Technology Center, and we are excited to expand the reach of FoodPIC within the global food industry.”
While awaiting construction of the building, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences faculty used existing laboratories at UGA-Griffin to help food entrepreneurs with product development, packaging, food safety, consumer acceptance and marketing.
“Ideally, what we have now is a place where we can help people scale up their products. If they’ve gone beyond the kitchen and need help to make more product in larger batches, we can now help them much more efficiently than we could last year,” said FoodPIC Director Kirk Kealey, whose career in food development includes launches of products for General Mills Inc., Mars Inc. and PepsiCo Inc.
The new Food Technology Center and its equipment gives UGA faculty working there the ability to develop larger batches and more finished products.
FoodPIC focuses on Georgia food companies and Georgia commodities, such as peaches, peanuts and blueberries, but Kealey would like to see the center become the best facility of its kind in the U.S.
Past FoodPIC projects include improved drying technologies for Georgia’s rabbiteye blueberries, frozen desserts using Georgia fruits and a grain-based milk beverage now being produced in California. An ingredient company is currently working with FoodPIC and hopes to see its reduced-sodium salt used in convenience foods like potato chips. FoodPIC scientists are also working with a company that plans to incorporate its probiotic into extruded foods.
FoodPIC is designed for short-term partnerships between food entrepreneurs and UGA scientists, not long-term food production and packaging.
“We help companies get a pretty good idea about how big their business potential is,” Kealey said. “They can then go to their own manufacturing site or to a co-manufacturer who will make their recipe to their specifications.”
Some potential clients decide to stay small and create recipes in their home kitchen to share with friends and family.
“FoodPIC is where food entrepreneurs go with their ideas, and we turn them into reality — into physical prototypes that they can eat,” Kealey said. “If they decide they want to continue their journey, we can help them with process development, package development, shelf-stable studies, thermal process validation and the Nutrition Facts panel. We’re a one-stop shop.”
By Sharon Dowdy Cruse