FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Jamie Schapiro is vice president of marketing at Galaxy Nutritional Foods, a Rhode Island firm that is focusing on special dietary needs and food allergies. That segment of the food-manufacturing industry, according to the company’s CEO, is “exploding in the U.S.”
Rhode Island is renowned for its chefs and its place in the history of American manufacturing, yet only sporadically have food and factories come together on a large scale in the Ocean State.
That could change, however, as food science, specialty diets and medical nutrition become bigger parts of people’s lives and the economy.
As local business and community leaders look for new opportunities for job growth, many see food manufacturing, and all of the potential enterprises connected to it, as a prime candidate.
“The whole food-innovation economy has great promise because there is a repository of talent here that crosses the intersections of design, health, wellness and culinary,” said Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White. “There is great potential to grow food as an industry.”
While Rhode Island can’t boast inexpensive land or labor like food-processing hubs in the South and Midwest, it does have the culinary talent, academic research and industry heavyweights to form the core of a food cluster.
The academic end includes the cooking and nutrition students at Johnson & Wales University, the food scientists at the University of Rhode Island, medical researchers at Brown University and industrial designers at Rhode Island School of Design.
On the industry side, Rhode Island is home to retail pharmacy giant CVS Caremark Corp., the largest pharmacy chain in the country, and United Natural Foods Inc., the largest American distributor of specialty and natural food products.
While the success of those companies won’t necessarily rub off on others, it can result in spinoffs, opportunities for suppliers and advantages for firms next door.
“It is an advantage to be close to UNFI for the ease of communications,” said Rick Antonelli, CEO of Galaxy Nutritional Foods Inc., a leading manufacturer of lactose-and dairy-free cheese substitutes headquartered in North Kingstown. “We have excellent relationships with them on products. Especially for the rebrand we did, it was convenient having their office so close.”