Feature Stories

Inventing food

By Christopher James, Public Service and Outreach

Tucked into a corner of the University of Georgia's Griffin campus is an innovative research center that could be a key component in bringing business and industry to the state.

UGA's Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center (FoodPIC) already is a valuable asset to Sean McMillan when he meets with companies interested in moving to Georgia. There are only 13 similar facilities in the U.S., the closest in North Carolina and Tennessee.

FoodPIC Director Kirk Kealey, right, discusses the center’s operations with UGA Archway Partnership Director Rob Gordon, left, and Director of UGA Economic Development Sean McMillan during a recent tour.FoodPIC Director Kirk Kealey, right, discusses the center’s operations with UGA Archway Partnership Director Rob Gordon, left, and Director of UGA Economic Development Sean McMillan during a recent tour. (Shannah Cahoe Montgomery/PSO)

"If we're competing with a state that doesn't have something like this, we have an advantage," said McMillan, UGA's Atlanta-based economic development director. "It's an asset and we're communicating that to companies that are looking to establish a presence here or expand their existing operations."

The FoodPIC, which soon will occupy a new 14,500-square-foot facility in Griffin, assists companies in developing new food products efficiently and economically. The center was initiated by faculty in the Department of Food Science and Technology, part of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Among the products in development are nut milks, hot sauces and meat rubs.  Faculty members also are exploring blueberry wine and carbonated yogurt, and studying the shelf-life of these and other novel food products.

"I think of Griffin as being the next Silicon Valley but with a food emphasis," said FoodPIC Director Kirk Kealey. "We want to develop and drive breakthrough innovations. It's a massive vision."

The FoodPIC opened in 2007 in the Melton Building on UGA's campus in Griffin. In the first seven years, faculty members there received about 13 requests for help from outside companies each year. Last year, FoodPIC fielded 68 requests that resulted in 24 proposals and 10 completed projects, while reaching nearly 1,600 people through outreach at trade shows and other events. Kealey's next goal is to reach 120 requests resulting in 15 completed projects in 2016.

McMillan says the FoodPIC gets a lot of attention from companies he meets with regularly.

"I think definitely in the area of small business and encouraging entrepreneurs in the food industry, it's a great service," McMillan said. "It could be something that could sway a decision to Georgia."

Published Friday,