Status as a foodie suits West Michigan

August 13, 2011
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Much is made in Michigan of the Big 3 automakers, but as Gov. Rick Snyder noted last week, the state’s food and agriculture industry is its second largest economic driver. Michigan is second only to California in its agricultural diversity, and agriculture is one of the main contributors to the state’s export achievements.

West Michigan is in a particularly good position in this economic sector, and, as recently noted by The Right Place, the Grand Rapids metro area is central in a “food triangle” that encompasses expansions by Nestle of the Gerber product line in Fremont, the firmly established Old Orchard to its south, and extending to Kellogg’s expansions in Battle Creek. What is seldom understood is that the agriculture industry is the tip of the iceberg in its relationship to research and development, not just of new foods, like Kellogg’s Kashi, but in the pharmaceutical industry.

Grand Rapids Business Journal this week reports extensively on the food processing and distribution industry, which continues to expand. Those businesses include King Milling in Lowell, Cole’s, Request Foods, Roskam, Gordon Food Service, Continental Dairy and El Matador Tortilla Chips, among others in a long list.

It is important to note here, however, the vast economic opportunity now more fully budding in food and plant research and development. The dramatic Gerber facility expansion is largely devoted to food research and infant nutrition labs. Kellogg opened its W.K. Kellogg Institute for Food & Nutrition two years ago, which is now the “epicenter” of global product development and innovation. It helped land the national food testing and research lab cohabitating in Battle Creek.

Perhaps the most dramatic evidence of the untapped potential is exemplified by the Van Andel Institute. Two years ago, VAI scientific investigators discovered a breakthrough in plant enzyme research, the results of which were named by Science Magazine as one of the top 10 breakthroughs of 2009.

Generic drug maker Perrigo in Allegan, which continues to see unprecedented growth, particularly as a wave of drug patents expire this year, is certainly poised to take advantage of the region’s natural environment, as has Amway with its food and skin care products.

The farm-to-table movement — which began at Bistro Bella Vita in 1997 — adds to yet another benefit for Michigan agriculture. It is a movement penetrating the consumer market and is evidenced by the opening of more than 1,000 new farm markets in Michigan this past year. It ever the time was right (once again) for Grand Action’s planned Urban Market, it is now.

Agriculture’s tentacles are creating new ventures, R&D. It is a business profoundly impacting the New Millennium.

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