OSU, ODA Food Innovation Center helps bring ideas to market

August 8, 2003

PORTLAND - In a glass-fronted building that faces Portland's old waterfront, Oregon State University's newest experiment station is an agricultural incubator where new products, technology and trade agreements are hatched.

The Food Innovation Center opened four years ago on Naito Parkway near the city center's Union Station as a public service program of OSU and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA).

The center has state-of-the-art laboratories, testing facilities and product development studios to focus on practical problems – finding solutions that will make the difference between profit and loss for Oregon farmers, food processors, distributors and retailers.

"We're helping traditional Oregon farm production transition into a profitable, consumer-driven agriculture," said John Henry Wells, the station's superintendent and an OSU professor of food technology. "At the same time, we're serving as an economic development engine for the state in creating new businesses and new jobs."

Examples of the center's recent projects are many.

Food Innovation Center staff members are working with Pacific Northwest fruit growers to gain a better understanding of consumer purchasing behavior. In the center’s laboratories, for example, consumer volunteers have sampled several apple varieties and rated them according to specified degrees of the all-important characteristics of sweetness and crispness. Taste-testing data are used to calibrate the automated sorting sensors that growers use to select and sort apples, machines that can now automatically detect precise degrees of sweetness and crispness.

OSU and Oregon Department of Agriculture specialists also are helping to refine marketing strategies for Oregon's wine industry. Researcher Cathy Dunham conducts research to find the subtle flavors that make red wine appealing to customers. Her research often forms the base on which marketing strategies are built.

Center researchers are lending expertise to local entrepreneurs in developing and testing new value-added food products from Oregon crops, including a new healthy "Lady Sakura" teriyaki sauce, made with Oregon peppers and cherries.

Faculty members also are experimenting with new techniques in food processing. Researcher Qingyue Ling, superintendent Wells and others are researching the use of radio wave technology to heat food. Once perfected, the technology could flash-cook foods to preserve freshness, flavor and nutrition.

The Food Innovation Center also offers training, including a workshop, designed to help tame the chaos that surrounds the process of starting a food business.

Supported by state dollars, as well as with federal funds secured with the help of Oregon's Congressional delegation, the Food Innovation Center offers technical services to growers, entrepreneurs and food processors.

The center regularly hosts international trade delegations and showcase foods from throughout Oregon. Because of its close ties with local farmers and food producers, the center is able to promote Oregon specialty foods made locally from berries, hazelnuts, pears, cherries and other crops, showing the world that Oregon is a center for food innovation.

For more information about The Food Innovation Center on the web, go to: http://fic.oregonstate.edu/ and http://extension.oregonstate.edu/oap/story.php?S_No=57&storyType=oap&page=1

Author: Carol Savonen, Theresa Novak
Source: John Henry Wells