Tasting Success: 2013's Top Innovators

Food Manufacturing reviews the top five innovative food manufacturers we’ve covered in our print issues this year, highlighting each company’s unique innovative efforts, including process improvement, food safety, R&D and sustainability.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of Food Manufacturing.

Food Manufacturing reviews the top five innovative food manufacturers we’ve covered this year, highlighting each company’s unique innovative efforts, including process improvement, food safety, R&D and sustainability.

1. Beaverton Foods, Hillsboro, Oregon

Beaverton Foods, Inc. is the largest processor of specialty mustards in the country and operates out of a 70,000 square-foot processing facility. The company has grown from humble beginnings during the Depression era to a booming business, shipping approximately 30 million units per year.

After operating in Beaverton, Ore., for more than 70 years, the company relocated to its current Hillsboro facility 11 years ago. Beaverton now employs 72 workers at the Hillsboro facility. Five staff mechanics oversee product changeover at the plant, which is an integral part of production in a facility that produces so many products.

Beaverton works with 700 product formulas and a plethora of packaging options, so the plant’s product lines are continually innovated and modified to accommodate new products. The company focuses on keeping production lines flexible in order to handle multiple bottle sizes and packages. “All our lines are pretty flexible. We have so many different pieces of packaging, from glass to plastic, to squeeze and food service. Some lines are specialized for squeeze bottle packages, but they handle multiple squeeze bottle packages, so we’re very, very flexible,” says Domonic Biggi, CEO of Beaverton Foods.

Not only is innovation a necessity on Beaverton’s production lines; it is also a key focus for the company’s R&D activities. Beaverton currently offers many kosher and gluten-free items, and the business is slowly working to expand these lines. The company’s R&D staff, along with the founding Biggi family, form a hybrid focus group that is constantly innovating and formulating new products to accommodate dietary requirements as well as new trends.

2. Hearthside Food Solutions, Downers Grove, Illinois

Hearthside Food Solutions manufactures snack bars for some of the world’s largest food companies. Founded in 2009, the company has been on the fast track for growth, expanding from four snack manufacturing facilities and 2,000 employees to today’s 13 plants and 5,000 workers.

Hearthside’s primary focus is co-manufacturing bar and snack products for “premier food companies.” Brian McNamara, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Hearthside Solutions, estimates that Hearthside currently has more than 100 contracts, with 80 to 85 percent of the business dedicated to contract manufacturing.

“Companies look to co-manufacturers,” McNamara says. “Small companies look to us because they don’t have the resources to launch and commercialize products. Big companies do it due to the potential complexity of a product or in categories where the cycle of innovation is such that they’d be continually investing millions of dollars every year to bring the product to market. We built a company in these categories (baking, cooking, crackers and bars) that had the scale for the premier food companies to bring their ideas to market.”

Hearthside operates a product development lab in McComb, Ohio, capable of handling the innovation and R&D efforts for all the lines and products made in all Hearthside plants across the country. The company also has added a smaller bar test line inside one of its Grand Rapids, Mich., facilities and a small R&D plant in Eugene, Ore., further strengthening the company’s position as a leading innovator.

3. Daniele, Inc., Pascoag, Rhode Island

Daniele, Inc. may be headquartered in a small town, but the company has big ideas when it comes to technology and food safety. The sausage and cured-meat producer has an aggressive food safety program, which includes a contracted outside laboratory that samples each batch of sausage and cured meat for salmonella and listeria. The company also performs comprehensive environmental testing in each of its three facilities, closely monitoring the plants for pathogens.

Daniele also has invested in a high pressure processing (HPP) machine for its salami production facility, which produces about 200,000 pounds of salami each week. Michael DeCesare, Food Safety Director for Daniele Foods, says HPP is “one of the most sophisticated ways to reduce the chances of contamination on finished product.”

While Daniele’s employees take great care in maintaining a food-safe environment, utilizing HPP technology provides a final checkpoint in what is already a safe process. “We make a product that employs multiple hurdle technology,” DeCesare says, “which means there are many layers that go into making salami — or any of our dry-cured items — that, when stacked upon one another, make it very difficult for pathogens to overcome and survive.”

Thanks to Daniele’s use of innovative technology and food safety techniques, the quality of its products have been improved, not only through added food safety assurance, but also because of the extended shelf life delivered through the HPP process.

4. Bolthouse Farms, Bakersfield, California

Bolthouse Farms began in 1915 as a family-owned, commercial vegetable farming operation focused on carrot production. Since then, the company has expanded to produce healthy salad dressings and beverages in addition to its carrot snacks. The company unveiled its new Innovation Center in 2013, which is designed to help Bolthouse accelerate its R&D efforts, as well as enhance its current product offerings.

The $5 million, 17,900 square-foot facility houses test kitchens as well as a sensory center, which allows product developers to use the latest technologies. Todd Putman, chief marketing officer for Bolthouse Farms, says that the co-location of the center and the production facility provides a “highly functional, collaborative environment,” which is conducive to Bolthouse’s innovation efforts.

Bolthouse Farms keeps innovation at the center of its business, operating on an “innovation cycle.” The company currently schedules its times of innovation in specific product categories. Due to the Innovation Center, Bolthouse will be able to increase the frequency of its innovation cycles, furthering product formulation and development.

5. LifeLine Foods, St. Joseph, Missouri

LifeLine Foods is unique in that the company produces both corn-based food products and ethanol. Earlier in 2013, the company invested $8 million in upgrading LifeLine’s milling equipment and other infrastructure. The new equipment will allow the company to move into new food categories, including flaking grits, brewer's grits, meals, cones and flours.

LifeLine implements an innovative “zero-discharge” production process. Jason Friedberg, Director of Strategic Planning and Analysis for LifeLine Foods, says, “Essentially, we bring in corn as a whole grain and we process every bit of it, including the wastewater.”

Instead of discharging its wastewater, LifeLine sends it into the ethanol production process. Along with wastewater, other leftover materials from the company’s mills are used in ethanol production so that nothing is wasted. The only "waste" materials resulting from the process are steam and clean air.

LifeLine’s innovative “zero-discharge” process results in both a profitable and sustainable business. “We have a very green operation where instead of burdening the public water-treatment plant, we can make money off of it,” Friedberg says.

Thanks to its innovative production process and advanced milling technology, LifeLine is quickly establishing itself as one of the premier corn-milling facilities in the country.