In 2009 the Project Team received a USDA Rural Business Opportunity Grant to complete a Market Analysis and Preliminary Business Plan for the Center that were completed in 2012 and currently are guiding implementation. These analyses demonstrated a significant need for a commercial kitchen and value-added food processing facility. Key findings include:
PRODUCERS: Farmers need affordable processing facilities and connections to buyers to scale up local food production
Farmers in our region are interested in this facility and its proposed services
- Sixty percent of producers indicated an interest in participating in a food incubator and sixty-eight percent indicated interest in a year-round market.
- The majority of local food products in the region are sold through informal means and there is significant interest and need for more visible and formalized means of sales including farmer’s markets, wholesaling, direct to restaurants and institutions, and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
There’s potential to increase production of specialty crops, organic foods, and other local food (dairy, meat, cheese)
- There are over 250 local foods producers from a ten-county area within a short drive of Freeport. Meat, cheese and dairy are particularly abundant and farmers also produce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
- There is nearly $500 million of produce imported into the tri-state region (according to the Local Food Prospectus for the Tri-State Region, January 2013) conducted by the Southwest Regional Planning Commission of an 18-county area including Stephenson County. “This amount only includes 13 types of fruits and vegetables grown during the seasonal production periods (Table 5). If these crops were grown locally, they would require over 50,000 acres land to produce” (pp. 55-56).
- Freeport is located on the edge of a dense concentration of organic producers in the Driftless Area that aren’t keeping pace with demand. Wisconsin has the second-greatest number of organic producers in the S., and these are concentrated in southwest Wisconsin. The Organic Agriculture in Wisconsin: 2015 Status Report found that demand for organics continues to outpace supply in Wisconsin.
CONSUMERS/LOCAL AND REGIONAL FOOD DEMAND
- There is an estimated $10 billion annual unmet demand for local foods in Illinois alone, according to Building Successful Food Hubs: A Business Planning Guide for Aggregating and Processing Local Foods in Illinois, January 2012, p. 11.
- Freeport is within a half-day’s drive of twenty million consumers, including the Chicago This project will contribute to many regional efforts to scale up local foods production and distribution throughout the upper Midwest.
- Local residents care about local foods: University of Illinois Extension surveyed area residents that participated in a Food for Thought Festival, the Stephenson County Ag Breakfast, and via e-mail. Of seventy-four responses, eighty-eight percent of respondents indicated “locally grown” was important to them and seventy-one percent indicated a potential interest in purchasing goods produced through a commercial kitchen incubator. Ninety-seven percent indicated they would shop at a year-round public market.
- Demand for local and regional foods only continues to grow. The USDA Know your Farmer, Know your Food program highlights that:
- The number of farmers markets has grown by 67 percent nationwide since 2008.
- There are now more than 220 food hubs in operation nationwide, up by 68 percent since 2008.
- Local food has topped the National Restaurant Association’s Top 10 Consumers Trends list since 2009.
A NATURAL FIT FOR DOWNTOWN
- Opportunity to support Downtown food business start-ups: Pretzel City Kitchens can help to increase the success rate of new business start-ups in downtown Freeport and beyond by incubating food businesses before they open their own storefronts or production facilities. A 2008 Freeport Downtown Market Study demonstrated the demand for a local foods/products store; Pretzel City Kitchens can help meet this demand by including a small retail element to showcase products developed in the Kitchens as well as other local and regional foods.
- Putting Downtown Freeport on the map as a unique food destination: Freeport is situated on the corridor between Chicago and Galena which draws over a million visitors a year seeking out Galena’s unique restaurants, galleries, shopping and recreation. Freeport is also connected to Madison by a string of rural communities including Monroe, New Glarus, Monticello, and Paoli that attract visitors with their food heritage, namely beer and cheese. The Wisconsin Cheese Tour highlights many of these destinations. By supporting food entrepreneurs, Pretzel City Kitchens will help to strengthen the local food offerings of existing restaurants and retailers and help create new food businesses and brands that can capture “foodie” tourism in the region.
FOOD PROCESSING – A REGIONAL ECONOMIC STRENGTH
The northwest Illinois / southern Wisconsin region has a long history and continued presence of food and ag processors including Furst McNess, Berner Food and Beverage, Snak King, cheese processors, and breweries. Pretzel City Kitchens will leverage these assets and help to grow the existing infrastructure, labor force, and expertise of the regional food cluster.
LEARNING FROM OTHER MODELS
The project team has been closely studying other commercial kitchen models from across the region and country to determine what will work best for this project. Visit the resources page to learn about other models we have visited / studied.