By Rob Sirrine MSU Extension and GT Foodshed Alliance
The nonprofit Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance (GTFA) has partnered with regional food distributor, Cherry Capital Foods, to realize a “Food Innovation Hub” (FIH) in Traverse City. Development of the FIH will help GTFA and community partners make progress toward their overarching goal— a goal shared by the Michigan Good Food Charter and Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network: By 2020, 20% of the food consumed in northwest Michigan will be grown in the region.
The FIH consists of 12,000 sq. ft. of space for lease to eight to 10 separate value-added food businesses. These businesses will benefit from proven synergies that co-location offers in other sectors like increased cooperation, efficiencies, and innovation. For example, if a value-added food producer is looking to wholesale its products or expand its sales, it has the option to distribute with Cherry Capital Foods right through the back door. Developing the infrastructure for these businesses to expand will provide multiple benefits to our region.
Take the case of one applicant: The Redheads Inc. Sarah and Christen Landry opened Kejara’s Bridge natural foods restaurant in Lake Leelanau in 1997 with a focus on flavorful food made from scratch. They developed a food product line in 2003, starting with their popular “Redheads Hummus,” which grew to include dressings and sauces, mixes, vegetarian burgers, coffee, and gift boxes, all with organic products and a focus on sustainability. With increasing wholesale opportunities with Whole Foods and Kroger, the Landry Sisters are finding it difficult to meet demand because of space and time constraints in their restaurant kitchen where the majority of their products are crafted. Moving their wholesale production to the FIH will increase their distribution potential and operational efficiency.
Like the Redheads, seven or eight other businesses will be located in the FIH ready to expand production to meet increasing demand. In the event these businesses expand to the point where the FIH can no longer meet their needs, others are lined up to move in. This is one major goal of the GTFA—to encourage economic development in the agri-food system by providing the space and infrastructure requirements that small value-added food businesses need to prosper. The FIH plans for full occupancy by the fall of 2015.
NOTE: The GTFA received funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for this project. The GTFA board is comprised of several community food system leaders throughout the Grand Traverse Region.