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Food, glorious food: When it comes to food innovation, New Jersey is 'All In'

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The Calandra Enterprises booth at FoodBizNJ.
The Calandra Enterprises booth at FoodBizNJ. - ()

From Campbell's Soup in Camden to Nestle in Somerset to Goya Foods in Jersey City, and countless food manufacturers and retailers throughout the state, the food industry is alive and well in New Jersey. Moreover, the food innovation business is thriving thanks to technology and some of the strongest food science in the country.

“People don’t think about food being an industry that’s driven by innovation,” suggested Michele Brown, president and CEO of Choose New Jersey, Inc. “But food products are being developed because of technology. Everywhere you look technology is fostering growth in the food business here.”

Choose New Jersey, a privately funded economic development organization founded in 2010, has a singular mission: “to encourage and nurture economic growth throughout New Jersey, with a focus on our urban centers.”

Brown, who gave the keynote address at FoodBizNJ on Oct. 24 at the Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset before a group of several hundred food industry professionals, made it clear: “We are all in when it comes to food.”

In the past year, she said, 72 new companies from overseas or other states have relocated to New Jersey. “It’s nice to know New Jersey is getting national recognition for our food industry,” Brown said. “New Jersey is the greatest foodie state in America. We know this and we want to be able to tell other businesses why they should locate their food company here.”

At present, Brown said, food represents a $105 billion industry for the state. In addition to working diligently to attract new companies here, Brown said her organization is hard at work trying to retain the companies already headquartered in New Jersey. Goya, for example, has “doubled down” on its investment in the state. The number of family-run businesses has exploded. The food incubation network is successful and growing.

“Food is the only industry in this state that can call every part of the state home,” she said, noting the technology industry is mainly located along the Route 1 Corridor, the financial companies headquartered in North Jersey closest to New York City and life sciences companies have their hubs, too. “But with land availability and talent, we have a great sell proposition for food companies who are considering moving here.”

Brown was one of many speakers eager to share knowledge on the burgeoning food industry in New Jersey at NJBIZ’s bi-annual, all-day food conference, FoodBizNJ. The theme of the event was “Setting the Table for Growth,” and included panel topics on the “Ins and Outs of Financing Growth in the Food Industry,” “Family & Food: How Family-run Businesses Can Thrive,” and “Beer, Wine & Spirits - Legislative Update.”.

Knowing that running a successful food company requires many skills, the conference even featured a panel discussion on branding. Moderated by NJBIZ Managing Editor John Parkinson,  “Your Brand: Packaging, Protecting and Marketing,” capped off FoodBizNJ with a look at getting food products into consumer’s hands — beyond the recipes, production and shipping.

While the panel discussions were popular attractions at the conference, the real buzz took place in Marketplace Hall, where sips and samples of dozens of delectables were featured throughout the morning. Brown concluded her presentation by saying she couldn’t wait to try a nitro cold brew coffee sample from WB Law Coffee, a well-known coffee roaster, wholesaler and soon-to-be retailer in New Jersey. (WB Law is gearing up to sell a B2C cold brew product in stores by year’s end.)

WB Law Coffee was one of several java companies that joined the many food companies, manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, packaging companies and others who came out to participate as vendors at FoodBizNJ.

This is third time Brad Finkel, president of Hoboken Farms sauces, has been part of this event.

“We know New Jersey offers the perfect ecosystem and incubation network for food businesses and we wanted to be a part of an event that celebrates the growth of this industry.”

Some of the vendors, including Lara Nikola, president of Smart Sips Coffee of Brick, said it’s important for ecommerce companies like hers to come out and be a physical part of the food and beverage industry. “FoodBizNJ is a great way to get face to face with our peers and potential partners.”

Andy Reichgut, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Garden Lites, is moving his company from Jamaica, Queens to Avenel on Nov. 1. “We have a very strong foundation in the NJ/NY/PA region and there is every reason to be at an expo that brings the very best of the food industry in the region together.”

Garden Lites sells gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free baked goods that feature vegetables first and foremost, but don’t skimp on taste. Also on the gluten-free track was Get Fresh Bakehouse of Fairfield. “Showcasing our product at FoodBizNJ is a great way to get involved in the New Jersey food community. We want to grow our business. This is a great way to do it.”

There are no shortage of culinary expos in the tri-state area. However, many of the vendors said they signed on to showcase their wares at FoodBizNJ because it’s a great opportunity for exposure. “We are trying to expand our brand,” said Robert Boyle, senior buyer for Milano’s Cheese of Linden. “The show fee isn’t expensive so we felt it was a great way to get our name out.”

FoodBizNJ’s major sponsors were Mazars, CohnReznick and Stark & Stark.

All of the vendors at the FoodBizNJ expo had stories about the guidance and support they’ve received and the success they have enjoyed being headquartered in New Jersey.

Choose New Jersey’s Brown said she wants to get to know all of them. “We invite all food businesses to contact us and tell us their story. The more we know about what’s going on in the food industry here and the more we know where the business opportunities are in the state, the more we can help,” she said.

“We want to collaborate with you and broadcast to the world that we have an incredible food culture in New Jersey,” Brown said. “We aren’t called the Garden State for nothing.”

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