The Business of Farming
New science lab helps food manufacturers make better business decisions. By Ari Kaufman
he COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of American life and business. Minnesota’s food and agricultural supply chain also has been affected, with businesses facing unprecedented challenges while continuing to make difficult decisions to ensure long-term viability. Given the essential nature of food and agriculture, a coalition of Minnesota groups recently partnered to survey more than 100 processors and manufacturers to better understand the supply chain effects of COVID-19 and identify what new services, resources, and collective solutions may help overcome them. In December, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) hosted a webinar
featuring a panel discussion about potential actions, followed by an audience questionand-answer session. Respondents provided insight into supply chain disruptions, market and sales losses, labor shortages, bottlenecks, and more. A study conducted by AURI; AgriGrowth; the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences; and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) also examined the challenges facing agri-business. The study showed that “…while the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Minnesota food and agriculture manufacturers’ and processors’ businesses, the disruptions did not break them. Rather, the pandemic exposed gaps that need to be addressed to make
supply chains more agile and resilient in navigating future disruptions.” To add to their strength, AURI, MDA and Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) came together to construct and open a new Food Product Evaluation and Sensory Laboratory (FPESL) about a year ago. Located on the SMSU campus in Marshall, the custom-built facility is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and infrastructure to help AURI’s clients better assess the sensory characteristics of food products while serving as an educational tool for students. The lab is intended to support AURI clients in assessing their readiness for the marketplace, explained Jason Robinson, AURI’s business development directorfood. The lab allows for test respondents to evaluate the taste, texture, aroma, and overall experience of food products in a professional and “sensorially-isolated” setting. A food business can seek feedback on questions, such as “is my product too sweet,” “how well do you like it relative to competition in the marketplace,” or “does this product meet your expectations as set up by the package,” and many more. Shortly after the FPESL opened, AURI began working with a Twin Cities client to provide market readiness feedback while formally operationalizing the lab. “Unfortunately, those efforts came to a screeching halt once the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all access to the physical space, and we only recently held our first test in the lab before the space was again shut down,” Robinson said.
Due to state restrictions related to COVID-19, the 2021 Central Minn. Farm Show has been cancelled. In it’s place is an inaugural “Farming Today” Conference in March. Watch your mail for details! Part of Farm Show’s mission is to support agriculture through education. Over the years, proceeds from the Chamber’s Farm Show have been used to provided thousands of dollars in high school and college scholarships. If you would like to help the chamber provide ag-related scholarships this year, please contact Laura for more information. lwagner@StCloudAreaChamber.com or 320-656-3831.
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