I recently had the opportunity to tour the brand new North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL) in Kannapolis. NCFIL is managed by NC State University and is the nation’s only facility with current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) capabilities that is dedicated to supporting plant-based food innovators. 

NCFIL brings together the latest in food processing equipment, expert food scientists, and partners from across the state to help food companies and entrepreneurs get their products to market quickly and effectively.

With plant-based food sales skyrocketing – our 2021 retail sales data values the industry at $7.4 billion with a 54% growth rate in the past three years alone – NCFIL is helping to boost North Carolina’s ability to lead in the production, manufacturing, and distribution of plant-based foods. As NCFIL explains, North Carolina’s agriculture and agribusinesses account for $95.9 billion of the state’s annual GDP and 17 percent of all state jobs. With a thriving agricultural economy and top-of-the-line research facilities and universities, North Carolina can play an important role in building an ideal business ecosystem for the plant-based food industry to thrive. 

As a North Carolina resident myself, I am encouraged that the state of North Carolina and NC State University have seen the massive economic potential that plant-based foods provide and have chosen to invest in the industry’s growth through this incredible facility. I met with Joseph Hildebrand, Pilot Plant Manager, and Bill Aimutis, Executive Director, and got to see the new space first hand. 

The NCFIL team offers support for every stage of business including product research and development, pilot plant production, training and workshops, and food industry consulting. Their 16,000 square-foot facility features state-of-the-art equipment to process grains, fruits, vegetables, and raw plant materials by a variety of methods. They also have a full product development lab and test kitchen, staffed by on-staff food scientists, that can help support formulation adjustment, scalability, and sensory analysis to enable food companies to perfect the taste and texture of their products. 

My favorite part of the tour was getting to see the extruder, which is the machinery that many plant-based food companies use to make the iconic meat-textured analogs we have come to love. It was fascinating to see how the products are made and to better understand the investment required to produce healthy alternatives to animal products.

As our PBFA consumer insights show, plant-based consumers are hungry for variety and this new facility can help companies deliver on the taste, texture, nutrition, and value that consumers want from plant-based foods. I look forward to seeing the exciting innovations that come from NCFIL. If you are a plant-based food company looking to work with NCFIL, you can connect with their team directly or check out their website to learn more.