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Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients: The sweet taste of success

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Welcome to the first edition of The Liquid Foods Blog, a free service featuring interviews and product news from JBT Corporation for the food and beverage sector.

JBT has worked closely with sweet potato processor Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients since the fall of 2013 to deliver a state-of-the-art production facility, which will be used to process sweet potato juice, to be used in products such as health drinks, sauces, and vegetable/fruit juices.

The concept began life four years ago when John Kimber – now Chief Operating Officer – teamed up with an agricultural engineering professor from North Carolina State to develop further markets for sweet potatoes. The resulting concept, refined through several iterations, provided a value-added use for off-grade sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes not of the size or shape for sale into the fresh market) through production of juice and dehydrated sweet potato granules.

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Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients was created in early 2014 with a view to commercializing this concept and work is now underway on a new production facility.

CIFI President Jim Nagy explains how JBT has played a key part in the company’s development and how CIFI’s plans came to fruition with JBT’s assistance.

Ingredients using sweet potatoes are of course your main focus – could you tell us a little more about the kinds of products you will deliver?

Jim Nagy

Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients’ Jim Nagy

CIFI will take off-grade sweet potatoes – sweet potatoes of the wrong size or shape for sale fresh and of limited value – and generate two product streams, a sweet potato juice and a dehydrated sweet potato granule.

The sweet potato juice can be sold with limited further processing – as a single-strength juice – or be concentrated and then filtered. It can be packaged either refrigerated, frozen or aseptic.

The dehydrated sweet potato granules also can be sold with limited further processing (resembling a granola-type texture) or be ground into flours of various particle sizes.  Orange sweet potatoes are the initial focus but CIFI will have the capability to process other sweet potato types – purple, white or Murasaki, for example – or even other locally grown fruits and vegetables.

The CIFI factory will be have a number of certifications:  SQF, Kosher and Organic, among others.

All CIFI sweet potatoes will be sourced and processed within the United States.

In terms of markets, what kinds of segments will CIFI supply?

For the juices, CIFI hopes to supply a number of market segments.  Sweet potato juice concentrate is already a component of many large fruit/vegetable juice blend brands – CIFI will be the first major all-domestic supplier able to compete in this segment.

Sweet potato juice, through its inherent nutritional value, is also a growing component for use in health drinks, dressings, sauces, and baked items. The dehydrated sweet potato granules are already used extensively in the pet food market.

The gluten free property of the dehydrated sweet potato granules and flour makes it attractive for a number of human food markets. For example, as a flour component for baked goods or as a component in nutrition bars.

How important is sweet potato as an ingredient for juices? 

Sweet potato field in North Carolina

Sweet potato field in North Carolina

Sweet potato juice – through its nutritional value as a vegetable, natural sweetness, and GMO-free properties – is an important ingredient for a growing number of vegetable/fruit juices.

Consumer attitudes toward sweet potatoes as an ingredient are also extremely favorable (one example of perception and reality actually in sync).

A market study CIFI commissioned through a local university revealed that:

  • Six out of 10 consumers view sweet potato juices as healthier than leading fruit-based sweeteners.
  • 95% of consumers perceive sweet potato as a healthy food.
  • 67% of consumers would pay more for products containing sweet potato ingredients.

 

How did Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients’ collaboration with JBT begin?

CIFI began working closely with JBT during the initial conceptual stage of the company. JBT actually was recommended by the same N.C. State professor who worked with John Kimber during the early days to develop the concept that ultimately resulted in CIFI.

JBT was instrumental in assisting CIFI engineers in defining, selecting and refining the optimum equipment for the proprietary process which was subsequently developed.

The very first, as well as the second, pilot run trials to validate the CIFI process took place at the JBT pilot plant in Lakeland, Florida. Undoubtedly, without the support and partnership of JBT, CIFI would not be at its current position – on the verge of initiating operations at a state-of-the-art production facility.

What JBT products does Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients currently use?

The CIFI plant currently under construction will use a JBT manufactured finisher, a JBT designed TASTE evaporator, a JBT manufactured sterilization/aseptic system and a JBT manufactured aseptic filler.

More importantly, JBT has been the primary designer, integrator, and supplier of the majority of the juicing systems – piping and mechanical integration of juicing equipment from multiple suppliers, design and installation of a number of juice processing operations, and design and installation of an elaborate clean-in-place system.

How have these products made a positive difference to what your company?

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CIFI’s new facility in Nash County

As indicated above, without JBT’s assistance and collaboration, CIFI would not be on the verge of initiating operations at a state-of-the-art production facility.

The high quality level of the JBT supplied equipment and equipment design/installations are of obvious importance.

But what has made a true difference for CIFI will not be readily apparent when viewing the beautiful stainless steel plant in operation. The true difference is the high quality advice, collaboration, and hard work provided by the JBT team in support of CIFI since our initial contact.

The pilot runs performed at the JBT pilot plant were invaluable in helping CIFI learn the process requirements – the attentiveness and patience of the JBT team working with us at the plant affirmed to CIFI quickly that JBT was the right equipment supplier – providing solutions as well as equipment.

The advice and support provided by Tom Eggleston, our JBT sales representative, and Greg Schrader, our JBT technical representative, have been world class. The high quality equipment JBT provides is important – but additionally, CIFI has learned, the high quality support and technical resources JBT provides with that equipment is even more important.

Do you anticipate you will broaden your collaboration with JBT?

We have big plans for CIFI’s future – increased production capacity for sweet potato processing as we further develop the market, juicing of other locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as a number of other growth opportunities.

Undoubtedly, we will continue to work with JBT as our future develops.