The goings-on at Bentonville’s 8th Street Market are beginning to draw the attention of food industry professionals from across the country.
The market’s primary tenant is “Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food,” a culinary school supported by the Walton Family Foundation and operated by NorthWest Arkansas Community College.
Chef Michael Kuefner, a Rogers resident and culinary arts instructor at Brightwater. Kuefner recently partnered with Denver-based startup 915 Labs, which offers a new, healthier way to process and package food, to create several shelf-stable recipes such as macaroni and cheese, Hungarian goulash and Thai coconut soup.
The innovation is this: Kuefner’s recipes were created using a new alternative method of processing food called MATS, or microwave assisted thermal sterilization. The technology was developed by 915 Labs as an alternative to the way most food is processed for the shelf.
MATS replaces conventional thermal processing, or retort, with a healthier way of preserving food for the shelf.
And it could come soon to a shelf near you.
“We collaborated with Chef Michael to demonstrate that our new technology allows a chef to create a restaurant-quality, clean label dish that can be safely packaged for the pantry shelf and simply re-heated in the microwave and eaten,” a 915 Labs spokesperson said. “This quality of packaged food is unlike anything available today.”
The MATS technology is patented and approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
“MATS is a game-changer because you don’t have to develop the product for the process like you do with retort,” Chef Michael said. “The result is great food that tastes better than homemade.”
INNOVATION LAB UPDATE
915 Labs says the first MATS-processed foods were launched in June in Asia, and a “major food CPG company” plans to put MATS-made products on U.S. retail shelves in early 2018.
Former Wal-Mart Stores executive Greg Spragg — now managing director and senior partner of business growth accelerator GrowthWise Group of Bentonville — is also working to bring a MATS system to Bentonville as the centerpiece of an advanced food manufacturing center for Denver-based startup Solve For Food.
Solve For Food chairman Keith Larson previously told Talk Business & Politics-Northwest Arkansas Business Journal that Northwest Arkansas is the ideal region for the project because it’s small enough where industry groups are closely connected, and it’s been a cradle of innovation and entrepreneurship for generations.
Solve For Food plans to build a 20,000-square-foot innovation lab that will allow small- to medium-size food processors to use the new processing method without having to make significant upfront investments. The space will also include test kitchens where food recipes can be formulated and tweaked before they go through the processing phase.
Solve For Food officials announced Thursday (Sept. 7) an initial investor — IV Ventures — has been secured in its goal to raise $13 million to construct the innovation lab.