On the Cutting Edge and Good for You Too
With world-class restaurants and abundant local producers, Rhode Island has long been known as a destination for “foodies” and edibles entrepreneurs alike. Providence is not only the birthplace of the Food Network and the site of America’s first diner, but the intersection of a burgeoning food science innovation industry where companies and programs anchored in Rhode Island enrich lives in our neighborhoods and around the world.
Edesia stands out as a shining star in the “social good” universe. Founded as a non-profit, through innovative manufacturing, Edesia aims to reduce the high rates of childhood malnutrition in developing countries worldwide. With a new state-of-the-art factory located in the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, Edesia is the only U.S. producer of Plumpy’Nut® and other peanut-based, ready-to-use foods for large humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and the US Agency for International Development.
Edesia’s Founder and Executive Director, Navyn Salem noted, “Rhode Island holds incredible potential for food manufacturers of any scale. In such a beautiful state, with such a rich history of innovative manufacturers creating jobs along the Blackstone River, I am proud to be part of the movement toward renewal and continued economic growth.”
Just across Providence, a project that began as a social responsibility initiative at Brown University bloomed into Premama after a conversation in Whole Foods with an expectant mother. Premama has two an over-the-counter drink mixes, which are both rich in key nutrients to ensure a healthy pregnancy, as well as ingredients to assist with nausea and digestive relief. Premama's products replace the traditional – and hard to stomach – prenatal vitamin pills. Premama is now launching in Whole Foods, as well as online at GNC.com, Drugstore.com, LuckyVitamins.com and many more retailers.
Premama epitomizes “only in Rhode Island” entrepreneurism as both a Brown brainchild and the winner of the 2011 Rhode Island Business Plan Competition. The Competition is the leading community-supported business plan completion in the Northeast and aims to further develop the entrepreneurial spirit in Rhode Island and help create growth companies that will increase local employment.
Dan Aziz, co-founder of Premama notes, “The Rhode Island Business Plan Competition was instrumental in getting Premama off the ground, Premama would not exist without that competition. The entrepreneur-friendly environment has kept us in Rhode Island. With six universities in such close proximity, young talent, inexpensive design work always available and an unbeatable cost-of-living compared to most cities, RI is the only state that makes sense for a young company that is trying to keep costs low, while growing."
Rhode Island is home to United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), the leading distributor of natural, organic and specialty food in the United States. Blue Marble Brands LLC is a division of UNFI that manages 15 Consumer brands with over 600 products.
“Rhode Island is such a natural location for our business,” Chris Testa, President of Blue Marble Brands said. “The northeast is a major market for our products and the talent pool along the Boston to New York corridor is deep. Specifically, Providence is an ideal location to tap into recent graduates from some of the best culinary and academic schools in the nation.”
Nestled in a West Bay office complex overlooking Wickford Harbor, Galaxy Nutritional Foods and its GO Veggie! cheese-free products are a cornerstone of Rhode Island’s food science innovation sector. “Thirty years ago, we pioneered lactose- and dairy-free products to serve consumers with food sensitivities or those seeking a healthier lifestyle,” notes Chief Executive Officer Rick Antonelli. “In a growing category, the combination of educational institutions like URI and Johnson & Wales, a population educated about the benefits of natural foods, and area companies like UNFI creates a unique synergy that made our move to Rhode Island that much more valuable.”
Today we know that “we are what we eat” and so the business of nutrition is a staple in the Rhode Island diet. Nutrition and great ideas are served up every day at the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. Johnson & Wales graduates are in famous kitchens around the world and through a new exchange with Tulane University medical school, future chefs are in hospitals while future doctors are in the kitchen applying their medical training to creating healthier meals. While some great tasting foods will never be good for you, innovative programs like this one ensure that Rhode Island’s food industry can hand-pick the best talent with healthy and tasty dishes in their repertoire.
“The entrepreneurial environment in Rhode Island, with increasing support from successful mentors, is helping new entrepreneurs turn their good ideas into new businesses which add jobs to the economy,” said John Robitaille, executive in residence at the Larry Friedman International Center for Entrepreneurship at Johnson & Wales University. “As a state with deep roots in the industrial revolution, we now are embracing innovation and encouraging entrepreneurship in food science like never before.”