Garden Fresh founders open high-tech processing center
Taylor — The founders of Garden Fresh Gourmet, the makers of salsa, chips and hummus who sold the company to Campbell Soup Co., have launched their next big project.
Jack and Annette Aronson celebrated the grand opening of the Great Lakes High-Pressure Processing Food Innovation Center in their former Taylor packing warehouse Thursday. The operation aims to extend the shelf life of food products and serve as an incubator for local food companies.
High-pressure processing uses a cold-pasteurizing technique in which already-packaged food is subjected to extremely high water pressure to kill pathogens and make foods safer and fresher longer without artificial preservatives, Jack Aronson said.
“It’s disrupting the food industry and sparking food innovation in our home of Michigan,” he said. “Pressurizing removes all yeast, bacteria, mold, e coli, listeria, salmonella and extends the shelf life.”
Aronson said he always had his eye on the technology, but couldn’t afford it. The project started two years ago after Ferndale-based Garden Fresh Gourmet was acquired by Campbell for $231 million in 2015.
Garden Fresh Gourmet continues to produce salsa locally, and is using the facility to pressurize it before shipping. “We were able to sell to Japan, South Korea, Europe, because it was safe, could take its time shipping and were able to grow the company,” he said.
The company has opened the cold-pasteurizing operation to other food processors. The center is working with Drought Detroit, a Plymouth-based juicer; Bangkok 96, a Thai restaurant in Dearborn; and other businesses.
“Drought had the same thing, a terrific product but a three-day self life — and after HPP they have a 40-day shelf life,” said Aronson. “It will allow them become more of a national player, plus have the safest food in town.”
Caitlin James, managing partner and co-founder of Drought Detroit, said they used to package their juice, ship it to Milwaukee to be pressurized — and then have it sent back just to gain an extra two weeks of shelf life. With a local pressurizer, they extended their expiration date by four weeks.
“The process added about 50 cents per bottle and it’s illegal to wholesale unpasteurized juice, so we didn’t have a choice, “ said James. “Juicing at home is the best — this was the next best thing, and right now we are able to pressurize our four most popular (sellers).”
Aronson has a 15-year lease on the 45,000-square-foot building at 21740 Trolley Industrial Drive in Taylor, but said he plans to buy it and expand to nearly 250,000 square feet.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley attended the grand opening. He said the innovation will grow Michigan’s food industry.
“Food agriculture in Michigan is so important and this is a really big deal,” he said. “It adds a competitive edge to local food companies and gives them more of a national opportunity.”