Center for Food Innovation Helps Deliver Healthier, Tastier Products to Consumers

May 25, 2005

(University Park, Pa) — According to statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest food manufacturing state in the nation. Within Pennsylvania’s manufacturing sector, food manufacturing ranks first in terms of employment (9.5 percent of all manufacturing jobs) and third in terms of total number of establishments (8.2 percent of all manufacturing establishments). Pennsylvania’s food industry contributes nearly $18 billion to the state’s economy each year.

While that is all good news, the truth is that Pennsylvania’s food manufacturing industry is facing some challenges. For example, employment in the food manufacturing sector fell 3.6 percent between 1998 and 2000, while the total number of establishments fell 6.1 percent during the same period. Those statistics, combined with the fact that most companies in the food manufacturing sector are relatively small — 81 percent employ fewer than 50 employees and 66 percent employ fewer than 20 people, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor — indicate that it may be difficult, if not impossible, for most food manufacturing companies to utilize any of their human and financial resources on researching, developing, producing and marketing new products.

Unfortunately, most consumers today are looking for greater, tastier and healthier food choices — and they expect those choices to be as inexpensive as possible.

image of Bordi, DeVitis, Coward Dr. Pete Bordi (right) reviews product ingredients with Cindy DeVitis (left) and Dr. Raymond Coward, Schultz Professor and Dean of the College of Health and Human Development, in the Center's research kitchen.

In order to help companies balance the need to maintain operational efficiency with the need to create new products that satisfy consumer demand, Penn State has created the Center for Food Innovation (CFI). The Center, which utilizes the expertise of faculty from the university’s School of Hospitality Management and its departments of Nutritional Sciences, Food Sciences and Agricultural Economics, provides a vehicle through which companies can research and develop new products, thus enabling them to be more competitive in the marketplace.

“Our goal is to help Pennsylvania companies become actively engaged in developing new products,” says Dr. Peter J. Bordi, Jr., associate professor of hospitality management and director of CFI. “Ultimately, we hope that the Center will provide consumers with greater and healthier food choices while also increasing the number of jobs that are available in the Pennsylvania food industry.”

“The Center for Food Innovation provides a bridge between industry, government and academia under its banner of ‘developing delicious foods that are good for you,’” notes Dr. Hubert B. Van Hoof, professor and director of the Penn State School of Hospitality Management. “Its intent is to engage in high quality, innovative research and product development that is beneficial to industry and supports local and state government efforts to bolster Pennsylvania food manufacturing industries and local economies.”

According to Bordi, one of CFI’s unique strengths is the alliance it creates between academia and industry to enhance all areas of the Pennsylvania food industry — from strengthening the quality of the ingredients found in products; to developing, refining and manufacturing new products; to distributing and marketing the new products to consumers. In fact, the Center already has 21 industry “partners” who have agreed to support its efforts. The Center has also established a scientific advisory board with representation from all areas of the industry — food production, food manufacturing, food distribution and food service — to provide guidance and advice to the CFI steering committee (the director and a set of selected faculty affiliates).

“Creating the academic/industry partnership was vital,” Bordi says. “On the academic side, we are familiar with the most recent research and development trends of the industry, and we already have experience in developing foods that can be nutritious without sacrificing taste, texture and appearance. By collaborating with industry partners, we can offer this expertise in a way that enables them to fulfill specific needs, and we can do so at a cost that is affordable to all Pennsylvania companies.”

image of Franco Harris Franco Harris ('72 FS HA), president and CEO of Super Bakery, listens intently to one of the several presentations made during CFI's advisory board meeting on April 22.

Franco Harris (’72 Food Service and Housing Administration), president and CEO of Super Bakery, Inc. and a member of the CFI advisory board, already has benefited from research conducted by Bordi. A few years ago, Bordi and his staff helped Super Bakery develop and refine its Super Muffin, a tasty, nutritionally enhanced muffin that has become a mainstay on school breakfast menus.

“Our company is a big believer in food innovation, particularly in terms of giving products a healthier twist,” Harris explains. “Pete has worked on a couple of products with us, which has helped us stay ahead of the game and save a great deal of time in terms of research and development.”

“With the Center for Food Innovation, Pete and the School of Hospitality Management have taken things to the next level — they can now offer these services to others in Pennsylvania so we can compete at the national and international level,” he continues. “This will help ensure the future of food manufacturing and the food industry in Pennsylvania.”

CFI’s “home” will be in the School of Hospitality Management’s Food Research Kitchen, which is located in Mateer Building on the University Park campus. In addition to the Super Muffin, Bordi already has used the research kitchen to develop, test and refine several products. Those include a sports recovery drink that has been prototyped and tested with the Penn State football and basketball squads over the past two years with resounding success; and a soy-based protein candy bar with a similar taste, texture and appearance of higher-fat candy bars that has been tested with children and adults.

Image of Sensory Lab Members of the Center for Food Innovation's advisory board enjoy a demonstration highlighting some of the equipment in the sensory lab, through which individuals can provide real-time evaluations of products.

Renovations are underway that will allow the research kitchen to become a full product development and testing laboratory. Among those renovations is the recently completed computerized sensory evaluation laboratory, which enables consumers to taste and provide instant feedback on products that are being developed.

“It will definitely speed up the process of developing new products and getting them to market,” Bordi says.

Desks and shelving units for the sensory lab were constructed and donated by InterMetro Industries Corporation — another company which already has benefited from research led by Bordi. According to Michael Ward, market manager for InterMetro’s foodservice products division, the company asked Bordi a few years ago to evaluate a heated vaulting cabinet that it had designed to hold food.

“Not only did Pete and his students evaluate the product, but they also developed a set of guidelines for using it,” Ward explains. “That led to the creation of a user’s manual and a label that will put on the side of each cabinet.”

Currently, Bordi is helping InterMetro develop and test an ergonomic food preparation table as well as a different food-holding cabinet. “People come to a university to learn things,” Ward says. “Through our relationship with the Center for Food Innovation, we have learned and benefited a great deal.”

Eventually, CFI plans to host an annual conference at Penn State that brings together academic, industry and government representatives to explore the latest trends and issues facing the foodservice and food manufacturing industries, and to publish a biannual journal that highlights general and emerging trends in food innovation.

“It’s important that we find avenues to share the work that we are accomplishing in CFI with others,” Bordi says. “That way, everyone benefits.”

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Editors: Dr. Bordi can be reached at 863-3579 or plbjr@psu.edu. For additional information, please contact Bill Hessert, director of college relations for the College of Health and Human Development, at (814) 863-4325 or swh4@psu.edu.