Technology Boosts Food Processing

Food and beverage manufacturers are employing digital tools to increase sustainability and agility.

By Roneshia Thomas
From the January / February 2023 Issue

The focus of the food processing industry is becoming more eco-friendly, sustainable, and technology-based. Innovation in sustainability practices has become a top priority for food processing manufacturers as they adapt to growing consumer demands, evolving ESG requirements, and improving supply chain deficiencies. Companies have turned to technology to assist in these sustainability goals.

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(Photo: Adobe Stock)

The global food tech market is expected to reach a value of $342.52 billion by 2027, according to a recent analysis by Emergen Research. This growth can be attributed to increasing adoption of advanced technologies to improve food safety and efficiency of production processes. Food processing companies are increasingly investing in adoption and deployment of robotics and automation across processes in the food industry. This is resulting in more hygienic processes, faster production, and higher capacity output. In addition, increasing availability of fresh products and improved visibility through online channels is resulting in rising demand and consumption, which is driving growth of the food tech market. Food industries are investing significantly in automation and digitalization in order to meet growing demand for food due to the rapid population growth. Moreover, rising demand for healthier, cheaper, and safer and more hygienic food products is driving market growth.


Niche Cocoa Industry, Ltd., a privately held global cocoa processing company headquartered in Tema, Ghana, selected Wisconsin for its first North American manufacturing facility. Niche Cocoa is the largest cocoa processor in Ghana, the world’s second-largest cocoa producer after the Ivory Coast.

Niche Cocoa is leasing 44,000 square feet in Franklin, WI. At the facility, imported cocoa cake will be pulverized to make cocoa powder for national distribution. Niche will also manufacture finished chocolate from Ghana with cocoa butter and cocoa liquid. Niche is partnering with the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Co., a Milwaukee-based company that pioneered the production of world-class, single-origin, bean-to-bar chocolate manufactured in Ghana.

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From left to right: Milwaukee 7 Representative Chris Hermann; PNC Bank Regional President, City of Franklin Mayor Steve Olson; Niche Founder Edmund Poku; U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Marisa Lago; Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes; and President and Founder of Omanhene, Steve Wallace. (Credit: Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation)

The project is the largest food and beverage investment by an Africa-based company in U.S. history and the largest Ghana foreign direct investment ever in Wisconsin.

Key Advantages To Doing Business In Wisconsin. Niche Cocoa joins a growing list of international businesses that have chosen Wisconsin for North American expansion. International and domestic companies often note they select Wisconsin because of its central location, great transportation infrastructure, high-quality workforce, and abundant water supply.

“The U.S. became a natural choice for Niche’s expansion given its market size and potential, both to develop semi-finished products and to sell more products up the value chain, such as chocolates,” said Niche Cocoa Founder Edmund Poku. “And we specifically chose Wisconsin because of its proximity to customers, logistics, high-quality human capital, and business-friendly environment. We know how to build factories so we could do that anywhere but the partnership between what we know how to do and what Wisconsin can offer Niche to succeed in our next chapter is what brought us to the state.”

The State of Wisconsin also offers a variety of incentives to assist businesses with their expansion and relocation projects, including tax exemptions, credits, and other special incentives, including TIF districts and enterprise zones. For eligible businesses, the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit effectively cancels any corporate income taxes for manufacturers and agricultural businesses in the state.

Wisconsin Is A Global Leader In Food and Beverage Manufacturing. Wisconsin’s food and beverage manufacturing sector is a thriving industry that benefits greatly from the state’s established manufacturing infrastructure, resources, and connections. The state is the No. 1 producer of cheese, ginseng, and cranberries. It is also home to more than 3,700 food and beverage companies. In addition, seven of the 11 largest food companies in the world have operations in Wisconsin. This cluster of food and beverage companies, known as FaB Wisconsin, works together to help develop deeper industry intelligence and build a stronger network of companies to facilitate strategic growth in the sector. Having a large concentration of food and beverage companies provides additional advantages—from supply chain to statewide agricultural resources—that make doing business more efficient.

Wisconsin’s reputation as a leader in the global dairy industry and producer of high-quality dairy products was appealing to Niche Cocoa because milk is needed to produce chocolate. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the state’s lead economic development organization, arranged a tour of Wisconsin’s dairy farms for Poku and other Niche executives. It gave them a firsthand look at how Wisconsin’s dairy industry and network of agriculture-supporting businesses could provide Niche with benefits that other U.S. states couldn’t provide. After the tour, Poku knew Wisconsin was the right location for his U.S. operations.

“The food and beverage sector is one of our state’s economic drivers,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “Niche Cocoa’s decision to locate in Wisconsin complements our existing businesses and opens new possibilities for collaboration in the supply chain.”

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Mississippi’s deep agriculture roots bolster the economy

Mississippi’s agricultural commodities are found in abundance throughout the state. From poultry and peanuts to catfish and cattle, Mississippi’s products feed and sustain families around the world. While agriculture is just one of the state’s strong industries, it has long been the traditional foundation of its ever-growing economy.

“Mississippi is replete with plentiful resources that entice companies to invest in our state and create jobs. Mississippi also offers many other competitive advantages, particularly our ‘no red tape’ way of doing business, which is a strong lure for companies seeking a new location or wanting to grow existing operations,” said Mississippi Development Authority Deputy Director Laura Hipp. “We also take pride in developing the workforce of tomorrow. We collaborate with our college and university partners to train generations of workers so companies can rely on a talented labor pool to continue their legacies of success.”

Agricultural Commodities
(Credit: Mississippi State University)

Strong Agricultural Assets. While Mississippi offers a diverse economic landscape, it leads the way as a top agribusiness state, recording $9.7 billion in agricultural production value in 2022. Hundreds of industry leaders, like Tyson Foods and Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, focus on cultivating, processing, packaging, and distributing a range of food and drink products to both domestic and international markets.

Recently, Tyson Foods invested significantly in its Forest and Vicksburg operations. In 2022, the poultry giant completed a $90 million expansion at its Forest processing plant, increasing its capacity by adding new automation technology. In 2021, Tyson invested nearly $61 million in its Vicksburg plant as part of the company’s commitment to meet the increased demand for protein. Thousands of workers are employed in this lucrative sector, and its growth shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In 2022, poultry topped Mississippi’s economic value list with $3.8 billion in production value.

While poultry is a top commodity, Mississippi also produced a hearty $1.87 billion in soybean value and served up strong corn, cotton, and livestock values in 2022.

Available And Ready Workforce. Mississippi’s strongest business advantage, and quite possibly the state’s greatest asset, is its dedicated workforce.

With more than 30,000 employed within the food industry and colleges training the next generation of workers, Mississippi offers agribusiness companies a strong pipeline of talent. Mississippi State University, a research university with a laser focus on agriculture, is one of the top universities that offer a food processing business degree and is one of the strongest institutions in terms of research and development across dozens of agricultural disciplines.

Logistical Advantages. In addition to a top-notch workforce and access to plentiful resources, the 250 food manufacturing companies that call Mississippi home also enjoy access to a world-class transportation and logistics infrastructure, which ensures efficient access to North American and global markets—from its highways to its waterways.

“Mississippi’s well-integrated transportation network makes it the perfect location for supplying global markets with the bounty of sustainable resources grown right here in Mississippi,” said Hipp.

With agricultural products as top economic drivers, Mississippi will continue to build upon its foundation as an agribusiness cluster state by welcoming high-caliber companies that rely on these valuable commodities for their continued success.

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Gloucester County, VA: In the Right Spot for Food Processing

Gloucester, VA is the ideal location for the food processing industry. The county is strategically located 1-hour south-east of Richmond and 2.5 hours from the District of Columbia. Its proximity to Interstate I-64, Port of Virginia, suppliers for food and beverage processors, packagers and bottlers provides business with a cost-effective way of processing food.

Approximately 47% of the U.S. population lives within a one-day drive making it easy to serve East Coast customers. Gloucester’s success in food and beverage processing is evidenced by the companies that have continued to grow and expand in the area.

A trained workforce in the food processing industry is one of the key success factors that Gloucester provides through partnerships with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s custom talent and recruitment training program and the Rappahannock Community College, a local state community college.

When blue crabs migrate up the York River every summer, Gloucester watermen follow. For more than 70 years, their workboats have slipped in and out of the waterways. Aberdeen Creek is the county’s second busiest commercial seafood harbor landing more than $3.5 million worth of oysters and crabs each season. The county is home to two seafood plants and several watermen operations providing an abundance of oysters, clams, crabs, and striped bass each year to their east coast customers. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) is one of the largest marine research and education centers in the United States. Gloucester enjoys 500 miles of shoreline for both the seafood industry and recreation.

Another successful food processing industry is gourmet baked goods with numerous businesses providing cakes and pastries. Generations Cakes, the largest gourmet baked goods company in the county, is well known for its mini–Bundt Cakes. The company, started by Marvin and Octavia Townsend, began in 2014 in their home. In 2015 they began providing their cakes to retail giant Whole Foods. During this time, they also moved from their home-based operation to a “bricks and mortar” facility to accommodate their contract obligations.

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Marvin and Octavia Townsend started Generations Cakes in 2014, well-known for their mini-Bundt Cakes. (Credit: Gloucester County)

In 2019, Generations Cakes was awarded its first government contract to supply gourmet baked goods to naval vessels, military installations, and shipyards throughout Hampton Roads. Upon receiving this contract, the company expanded its operation a second time adding more equipment and employees allowing the expansion of its flagship baked lines and services.

Gloucester County is home to the nationally known Whitley’s Peanut Factory which opened its doors for business in 1986 on Route 17. That premise was not wrong, and soon the factory outgrew its back room of the store and a new production facility was built. The original building was kept as the Gloucester store location. Two other store locations have been since added, in Williamsburg and Richmond, VA.

In addition to the three retail stores, today the business operates a wholesale and private label division. All of this happens from right here in Gloucester County with about 35 full-time year-round employees plus about 40 additional seasonal workers during the holidays. The main processing plant, corporate office, and distribution centers are all located in Gloucester.

“Gloucester County has been a wonderful place to run this business,” says Todd Smith, owner. “And we are looking forward to continued growth here. The location has easy access to transportation and the county is supportive of business development. My son, Brett, has just joined the business, the third generation of the Smith Family to do so, and together we are working on plans for further expansion and growth.”

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