Inside the Food R&D Lab

Over the last few decades, we’ve all seen dietary villains — from saturated and trans fats to cholesterol and now, gluten — come and go. But nothing quite compares to the clean eating movement we’re now experiencing and the noise around highly processed foods.

It seems as if overnight, canned soups, ready-to-eat meals and convenience foods have come under assault. In actuality, the trend toward healthy eating has been slowly building: according to Fortune Magazine’s, Special Report, The War on Big Food, the top 25 food and beverage brands have lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share since 2009.

In future blog posts, I’ll be talking more about strategies for improving the quality and nutrition of center-of-the-store food products, but in the meantime, I checked in with John Kowalchik, President and CEO of Wornick Foods, one of this country’s leading food co-manufacturers, to see what’s happening inside his company’s R&D lab.

Wornick Foods is actively exploring alternatives to conventional food processing, or retort, including 915 Labs’ microwave assisted thermal sterilization (MATS)™ technology. A number of the top CPG companies have worked with a pilot-scale MATS-B system in the Wornick Food lab.

“We’re hearing a lot of interest and excitement from CPGs over the MATS technology and how they see MATS fulfilling very rapidly changing customer needs,” said Kowalchik. “Everyone who has worked with MATS recognizes the potential of the technology and is enthusiastic about the opportunity to deploy it in their product development and evolution of their brands.”

Kowalchik said today’s consumers, led by Millennials, mom bloggers and health-conscious consumers, are disrupting the status quo in the food industry by demanding fresher, more natural prepared foods that aren’t laden with additives.

“[Legacy] brands and food processors have been unable to deliver that,” he said. “CPGs have to bring about change.”

By minimizing heat damage during sterilization, foods processed with the patented MATS system retain their nutrients, color, texture and flavors.

“MATS processing results in product quality that is better than any other sterilization technology every developed,” said Kowalchik. “For pastas, vegetables, grains and rices, you get great results. MATS-processed soups require no preservatives and taste home-cooked or white tablecloth-restaurant-prepared.

Wornick Foods quickly recognized the impact a healthier food processing system would have on the food industry. The company was not only an early adopter of MATS, it was also part of a consortium of private companies that worked with Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Defense in developing microwave technology.

“We installed a MATS-B at Wornick because we believe that the technology has the potential to transform our business,” added Wornick. “Our mission is to deliver fresh tasting and wholesome foods.”