Brad Niemeier is ready to start bottling his Azzip sauce, thanks to assistance from Purdue Extension’s food science outreach program.
Niemeier was closing out his football career
with the Purdue Boilermakers in the
2011 season, competition was just starting up in another arena—the university’s
annual Burton D. Morgan Business Plan competition.
had always dreamed of playing football for Purdue, but the hotel, restaurant and tourism major was also nurturing another dream—to open his own
restaurant. Winning the prestigious business plan competition—with its $20,000
first-place award—would go a long way toward making this goal a reality.
concept for Azzip Pizza, a fast, casual pizzeria where customers walk down a
line and choose ingredients, much the way they do in a sub shop, combined with
his business and marketing plan, struck a chord with the judges. He walked away
with the top prize and partnered with chef Blake Kollker. While working on the
restaurant—projected to open in early 2013 in either Evansville or West
Lafayette, Ind.—they decided to bottle and market Azzip Sauce, the spicy pesto
sauce they developed for their pizza.
bottling sauce isn’t the same as serving it fresh. To meet FDA
regulations, shelf-stable food products must be below a certain level for pH
(acidity) and water activity to prevent growth of microorganisms.
Food science outreach specialist Katie Clayton tests new products to ensure they meet FDA regulations.
the sauce, the 2012 graduate went back to his alma mater. A Purdue Department
of Food Science outreach program helps fledgling food
entrepreneurs like Niemeier, who want to sell at farmers markets and other
venues, make products safe from bacteria.
pH and water activity to make sure products meet food safety regulations,” says
Katie Clayton, food
science Extension outreach specialist, whose recent client list has also
included restaurateurs, bakers and home-to-retail vendors with such products as
barbeque sauces, wedding cake icing, specialty peanut butters and coated
“Katie and Steve Smith
(director of the food science pilot plant that
tests products) walked us through all the steps,” Niemeier says. “Our sauce
wasn’t acidic, but it had to be tested for water activity. It was right at the
cutoff, so we discussed ways to lower it by changing the proportion of
ingredients. After a few trials, we ended up with a product that tasted good,
looked good and was at the right activity level,” he says.
knew this help was available for entrepreneurs,” Niemeier says. “It’s awesome
to have this resource. I got so much out of my time here as a student. Now,
Purdue is still giving back to me.”
Extension program is among the offerings of the Purdue New
Ventures Team, which provides business planning
assistance to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Food science also offers
provides technical assistance and connects people with resources on food
processing and regulations.
this outreach effort works to get food enterprises to the marketplace, another Purdue Extension group is
focusing on a way to help producers grow more products.
Percentage of Small Farms in Indiana
A Hub of Activity
for locally grown foods is on the rise. But many small farmers are unable to
take advantage of opportunities, because they can’t readily tap into a variety
of buyers and processing systems that would give them better access to markets.
Food hubs are among the fastest-growing models for increasing farm
sales, says Roy
Ballard, Purdue Extension educator in Hancock County, who
leads the Central Indiana Food Hub Feasibility Study Committee. This committee
of local producers, business leaders, Purdue Extension educators and an Indiana State Department of Agriculture representative is laying the groundwork for a food hub
initially serviced by seven counties: Hancock, Hamilton, Henry, Madison,
Marion, Rush and Shelby.
collect produce from area farms at a central location and then deliver it to
customers. A food hub may also process, store, market and certify local
produce. End customers can be a mix of consumers; restaurants; institutional
clients, such as schools and hospitals; wholesale brokers; and even food banks.
committee received a USDA Specialty Crops Block grant to conduct a feasibility study of such an enterprise in
early 2012 and has now entered the business plan and marketing phases.
says the CIFH may have a virtual hub running by spring 2013 and possibly one
with substantially more infrastructure by 2014. “We’re moving forward with
cautious optimism,” he says. Sales are conservatively estimated at up to $1
million the first year.
already ranks in the top 10 nationally for production of some specialty crops,
but others are not grown in the state, although they could be.
“We would need to expand our core of farmers
in the loop,” Ballard says. “Some farmers will need to diversify the crops they
are growing, and we will likely need to bring new farmers into production,” he
half the producers surveyed during the feasibility study reported a strong
interest in adding value to their operations by diversifying and in
opportunities to bring family members into their operations.
is to go as close to year-round as possible, with various ways to preserve
crops in season for later sales and to produce more customer-ready products,”
of just having sweet corn in the summer, we can flash freeze it and have it
available for schools,” he says. Producers may need to develop season-extending
production systems to help them start earlier in the spring and go longer into
producers who grow predominately for farmers markets, this could increase their
capacity and allow at least one person to stay on the farm full time. They can
continue to grow an array of produce for farmers markets but focus on one
particular crop for the food hub.
enjoy growing crops, they can hand it off to someone else to market,” Ballard
says. “If they like doing farmers markets, they can continue to do that. It
comes down to the value they put on an hour of labor and whether they prefer to
spend those hours in production or marketing their farm products.”
Goat cheese producer Judy Schad relies on Purdue’s Heeke Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in southern Indiana to identify health problems in her goat herd.
To Protect and Serve
comes to labor, operating a goat dairy and making artisan cheeses is a labor of
love for Judy
Schad and her husband Larry, who own Capriole
Inc. in Floyd County. Goats not only
provide the means for their livelihood but are also part of the family. The
milk from the genetically closed herd is used to make a specialty line of
cheeses original in appearance and taste.
the herd was threatened by disease, the Schads turned to Purdue’s Heeke Animal Disease
Diagnostic Laboratory in Dubois, Ind. Judy Schad recalls a
health crisis during a winter outbreak of an infection that “spread like
wildfire on the milk line” and killed several goats. She contacted the lab, and
the Purdue specialists identified the culprit and recommended elimination
caught it early, before it infected the whole herd,” she says. “It really did
save us from what could have been a terrible situation.”
the unique genetics of the herd is allowing the Schads to move to the next
level and grow the cheese part of their business, Judy Schad says. “We’d like
to get the genetics into other herds and establish a local milk market.”
The ADDL is the primary animal diagnostic resource for private
owners like the Schads as well as for public proprietors and veterinarians.
Tests are used to diagnose diseases, establish treatment plans and provide
surveillance for select diseases. The Heeke lab was established at the Southern
Indiana Purdue Agricultural Center to serve the poultry and livestock
industries in this area of the state and coordinates with the main ADDL lab on
Purdue’s West Lafayette campus.
continue to consult the lab as needed to monitor their herd. “The diagnostic
lab has been very helpful in identifying causes of health problems in goats. It
does keep us in business.”
Purdue Agriculture has many resources to help entrepreneurs navigate the
roadblocks—the Shads, whose herd could have been wiped out by disease, and
Niemeier, who started with a solid business plan but needed to make sure his product
was safe to manufacture.