Aronson Family Opens Rare HPP Plant to Grow Michigan Food Industry
(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 7, 2018)
Taylor, Ferndale, MI- Smaller food production companies have limited options when it comes to taking their products to grocery store shelves. Most often chemical preservatives are the answer. But food entrepreneur Jack Aronson, best known for creating Garden Fresh Salsa , which he recently sold to Campbell’s, has long been working on ways to make local food companies more successful.
His latest venture is the installation of a high pressure processing (HPP) machine in a 40,000 square foot facility in Taylor. The venture, Great Lakes HPP Food Innovation Center, held an open house Thursday to celebrate the opening and give friends, family and media the grand tour.
Food products such as DROUGHT Juice, Garden Fresh Salsa, Clean Planet Foods meats and meals, and Bangkok96 meals will arrive at the plant already in their packaging. The packaged foods go into large green cylindrical tubes that slide into the high-pressure machine via a conveyer belt.
Plant Manager Dante Dasaro explained that cold water is pumped into the machine at 87,000 psi through a pipe that is the diameter of half a Q-tip head. The pressure is equal to that of 24 full size elephants plus one baby elephant standing on the cap of a bottle of water.
The pressure kills mold, yeast and bacteria without harming food quality. This method differs from pasteurization of milk and other foods that are heated to kill the pathogens. Cold pressure systems (HPP) keep food tasting better because cooking products impacts the original flavor and freshness of the ingredients.
Great Lakes HPP Food Innovation Center is kept at 38 degrees so food safety is maintained both before and after the process. The facility also has a state of the art hand-washing and shoe-washing system, along with requirements for white coats even though the products are brought in already sealed. As an extra layer of safety, even the oil used in the mechanics of the machines is food-grade just in case there are any breaks.
The machine itself required extra layers of concrete to be laid into the foundation, and the main components of the machine are located behind blast-proof walls in a restricted area where no one can be if the machine is running. Any problems and the machine takes itself down from 87,000 psi to zero in just 15 seconds.
“If this line were to break and someone was standing next to it, they would be instantly about 8 inches shorter,” Dasaro said, pointing out the line that runs less than a foot off the floor.
A round of pasteurization takes as little as three minutes.
‘Michigan is one of the top states for farming, but when it comes to food production we’re shipping so much out of state,” Aronson said. “This machine changes everything for small, clean food companies. For DROUGHT, for example, this extends their shelf life by a month without having to add any chemicals.”
Not everything will hold up well in an HPP machine. According to Packaging Digest, a trade publication, “Products must contain enough moisture to transmit the pressure throughout, and as little air and/or head space as possible—vacuum-packed products are ideal. But HPP can accommodate a range of formats, including bottles, jars, trays and flexible packs. As long as the package can flex about 15 percent on any one surface, it will withstand HPP compression.” Items without solid packaging would be flattened by the process, and glass is a definite no-no.
HPP technology has been around for about a decade, and it helped Aronson take Garden Fresh Salsa worldwide by extending the shelf life.
For DROUGHT it is doing the same. “”The technology that GLHPP has brought to Michigan is phenomenal. HPP will allow our business to grow exponentially without compromising the integrity of our product. I think we will begin to see healthier, fresh food options more readily available in supermarkets now — before HPP everything had to be cooked or filled with preservatives in order to be distributed. Jack and Annette’s facility is genuinely going to pioneer how local food businesses can grow,” said Caitlin James, one of the company’s founders.
According to Packaging Digest, in other countries there are HPP plants that handle products for many companies, but in the United States the trend has been for private companies to buy their own equipment and sell time to others.
Aronson’s vision is to make Great Lakes HPP into a hub for multiple small businesses. “We want to see other businesses succeed like we did,” Aronson said.
This passion is evident in his history. When he sold Garden Fresh to Campbell’s, he kept one building in Inkster to be resold to a group of local food producers to collectively make storage and distribution easier. Prior to that he operated The Seed which worked directly with food entrepreneurs, offering a commercial-quality test kitchen and assistance in all areas of business.
Clean Planet Foods is working to perfect the art of offering high quality foods without additives and preservatives, using the HPP technology that is now up and running at the Taylor facility.
Among those coming to tour Great Lakes HPP were the Mayor of Ferndale Dave Coulter, State Representative Robert Wittenberg, and Michigan Lt. Governor Brian Calley. Guests were treated to foods from Mabel Gray, The Root Restaurant, Bacco Ristorante, Roman Village Restaurant and other Metro Detroit establishments.
Learn more about Great Lakes HPP at http://greatlakeshpp.com/