Create the Next Big Food Product With the Folks Who Made Bacon Seaweed

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Imagine Shelf Stable Watermelon Snacks With BIG Crunch and Insane Flavor

Freeze dried watermelon and berries at the OSU Food Innovation Center
Freeze dried watermelon and berries at the OSU Food Innovation Center. Susie Wyshak

Bacon seaweed was all over the news when the story hit in July 2015. My prediction is this healthful and sustainable dulce seaweed production may take a backseat to the news about crunchy freeze-dried watermelon which I cannot stop thinking about!

My first taste of this pure, shelf-stable watermelon snack happened at the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center (FIC) in Portland.

The FIC was experimenting with freeze-dried watermelon on behalf of a group of watermelon producers. Similarly, the Center has helped many of Oregon's most award-winning specialty and artisan food get developed. It is a must know resource for food producers across the United States — as are the other Food Innovation Centers spread around the country.

What led me to visit the FIC was an article in Edible Portland about a pear grower's work to develop a way to preserve the abundant pear harvest — by making crunchy, freeze-dried pear puffs. Nothing added.

You don't just wake up one day and set up a freeze-dried produce operation. Unlike dehydrating, freeze drying equipment is very expensive. Plus, the process for keeping the flavor and color intact takes a lot of experimentation.

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Got a Food Product or Ingredient Idea? Develop It With Food Scientists

food science experiments at the FIC
Food sciene experiments lead to food breakthroughs at the OSU Food Innovation Center. Susie Wyshak

You can approach Oregon's Food Innovation Center (FCI) with an idea for a product or a new way to use an ingredient.

For a very reasonable investment, food entrepreneurs can develop and test new foods with services such as:

  • Food product development (In the photo here you see a new way of using a certain oil within confections. No I can't tell you — It's top secret!)
  • Sensory testing with consumers, meaning how well people like the smell and taste. 
  • Packaging and production testing and advice
  • Overall business planning and connections to other producers who may become partners.

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Food Entrepreneurs Can Access Food Innovation Centers Around the U.S.

Legit Organics candy bars
Organic candy bars developed with the Food Innovation Center. Susie Wyshak

Across the United States, various universities are host to food innovation centers that help food entrepreneurs like this get started and help farms create value-added products like jams and dried fruits. These packaged foods are a lot more profitable for farms than selling fresh produce, for the most part.

Entrepreneurs without a food science or cooking background can see their food business visions come to launch. (Hiring private food scientists is also an option, but these Food Innovation Centers have lots of equipment and cross-pollination with agricultural departments and university programs, too.)

Here is a partial list of centers around the United States offering low-cost business consulting, food product development and market testing services to farms and food entrepreneurs:

Remember, most states also have food business incubators for developing local food concepts as well as marketing products.