Ohio Reaps Benefits From Food-Based Manufacturing

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Nestle chef Mark Morton developing recipes at the company’s test kitchens in Solon, OH.(Photo: Brian Bull)
Nestle chef Mark Morton developing recipes at the company’s test kitchens in Solon, OH.(Photo: Brian Bull)

American farmers earned more income last year than ever. And Ohio is among the states at the center of the food boom that incorporates not just farming but food processing and manufacturing.

Think manufacturing in Ohio and you’re apt to picture cars rolling off of assembly lines or maybe glowing molten steel being poured into ingots at local mills. But chew on this: Ohio has another manufacturing sector that’s more resilient and generates more dollars: food. Combined, Ohio’s agricultural manufacturing, food processing and production generate nearly $108 billion a year and employs 70,000 workers.

It’s the state’s biggest industry and it’s growing.

“These are some “soy shallots”, the starting point of the sauce. I’m going to caramelize them in just a little bit of oil in a hot pan here.”
Mark Morton is a chef with Nestle USA. The company’s product development center is here in Solon, Ohio, and Morton is hard at work in a test kitchen.

“Once these are brown, then I’ll add the celery and the carrots, and I’ll just continue to cook them until they soften,” Morton says.

Morton is experimenting with entrees that may soon end up in your grocer’s freezer, under the Stouffers or Lean Cuisine label. Nestles spokeswoman, Roz O’Hearn:

“And Stouffers and Lean Cuisine both are considered billionaire brands. So in the Nestles lingo, that means a brand that has achieved a billion dollars of annual sales. There’s not that many billionaire brands and we’re just really thrilled that they’re right here on campus with us.”

Nestles is just one of the food giants in Ohio. Others with facilities in the state include Dannon Yogurt, Campbell’s, Heinz, and Bob Evans. Ohio has food in abundance; raw and processed.

“Food production is the number one business in Ohio.”

That’s agriculture professor Bob Cohen at Kent State. He’s talking about how Ohio ranks third in the nation in fresh and processed tomatoes, second in egg production and first in Swiss cheese. Too bad for Wisconsin.

“We see from Lake Erie down to the Ohio River, very diverse resources that enables everything from wine grapes and fruits in the north, to tobacco in the south, and beans and wheat in the west, and a lot of vegetables in between.”

And while other industries have taken hits during the latest recession, food has remained steady or has grown. Smucker’s, which is headquartered in Orrville, is expanding. That’s welcome news to Orrville’s 8,500 residents. Mike Hedberg is the city’s head of economic development.

“They currently have over 1500 employed here in Orrville. They just completed their largest office building to date; they’ve completed an expansion of their research and development building and they’re about midway through construction of a 300,000-square-foot, state-of-the- art manufacturing facility.”

There’s a ripple effect to food production that goes beyond farming and making jam. Richard Linton has identified more than 1,700 food or food-related manufacturers in Ohio. Linton chairs Ohio State’s Department of Food Science and Technology.

“Paperboard containers, plastic containers, metal containers, glass containers; these would all be examples of common food packaging materials that are all used in the food industry,” Linton says.

Some companies, like bio-based manufacturer Nutek Green, are selling retail and industrial projects that use soy and corn-based products made in the state. They’re turning soy into ink toner and creating bio-based paints. Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s first U.S. senator on the agriculture committee in 40 years, says this is another sign of the state’s food prowess.

“There are in Ohio right now, 130 biotech, biomed, bio-based manufacturing, companies. They will take soybeans or take other crops and turn them into paints, and thinners, and other kinds of products. And we know there’s potential for huge job growth at this intersection if you will, of agriculture and manufacturing in the form of bio-based products,” Brown says.

With growth, competition is getting keener in some parts of the industry in Ohio and some say that’s making it harder for the little guy. J. Kolt is the executive vice-president of Chef-Ko, a Cleveland company that trucks processed meat across the region. He’s taken more than a dozen local businesses off his client list over the past few years.

“There was a manufacturer in Warren, that couldn’t compete with Nestles in producing pocket sandwiches; a couple of hot dog companies here in town — those businesses were run out of business based on buying power and pricing by the big boys,” Kolt says.

Suggesting that as important as the food industry is to Ohio it’s not without its own “food chain” where the Lake Trout still feast on the minnows.

  • Richmond Cleaning Company

    It’s a great news that Ohio farmers are developing in such a rapid speed. I hope developing countries will learn something from their efforts.