Raley’s Food Lab to Serve as Entrepreneurial Hub

Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Raley’s Food Lab to Serve as Entrepreneurial Hub
Raley’s Food Lab location in California's Yolo County is known for its diverse agricultural production, and Woodland, California, is the home of several global and local food-processing firms.

Aiming to help cultivate innovations for a more sustainable food system, Raley’s is sponsoring the Raley’s Food Lab at The Lab@AgStart incubator in Woodland, California. The Raley’s Food Lab will be a certified food facility where food entrepreneurs can develop new products, ingredients and recipes for taste testing, sampling and small-volume sales.

AgStart is a program of AgTech Innovation Alliance, a nonprofit public benefit corporation focused on advancing innovation in Ag|Food|Health. It has been active in the Sacramento, California, region since 2012, when it was launched through a collaboration that included the University of California Davis. Since 2015, AgStart has supported hundreds of ag- and food-tech startup companies through its combination of mentorship, education and co-working services.

Established and aspiring food innovators will be able to reserve Raley’s Food Lab to make use of its kitchen and food preparation equipment, as well as take advantage of its mentorship to help scale their businesses to prepare to sell at retail.

“Raley’s takes great pride operating our business in one of the richest agricultural hubs in the world. We are excited about what this region represents for the future of food production,” said Michael Teel, owner of West Sacramento, California-based Raley’s. “The Raley’s Food Lab will support food entrepreneurs, who will lead the way to a better food system. We look forward to discovering new products and helping to bring them to our store shelves.”

As a part of the larger Lab@AgStart incubator, Raley’s Food Lab users will also be able to take advantage of The Lab@AgStart’s co-working office space, as well as AgStart’s business advisory services. When it opens on April 1, the Lab@AgStart will be the largest wet-lab incubator facility in the state of California with an agriculture and food focus, and the only startup incubator in the state combining both a food lab and comprehensive wet-lab facility.

“A unique advantage of our facility is that entrepreneurs can prepare a new combination of ingredients and cooking techniques in the Raley’s Food Lab, and then immediately take their creation into the Yocha Dehe Lab to assess it for nutrient content and other health attributes,” said Leanna Sweha, AgStart program director. “The Lab@AgStart facility will help startups commercialize new innovations for a more sustainable food system, and our facility itself will emphasize sustainability.”

"Having access to the Raley's Food Lab will be instrumental for us, enabling us to produce samples of our ingredients for our corporate partners to evaluate. This will help accelerate our product development cycles,” said Anupama Ranganathan, co-founder and CTO of InnovaNutra Inc., a UC Davis spinout creating plant-based food ingredients to improve flavor, nutrition and shelf-life. "There are very few alternative facilities in our Sacramento region. We previously had to travel several hundred miles to the Bay Area or northern parts of California to prepare samples of our product."

According to a 2019 report by consulting firm ESI, the rise of food entrepreneurship, combined with a changing food system, has generated increased demand for shared-use kitchen incubators. The recent pandemic has accelerated the ongoing changes in food production and consumption. Consumers are demanding healthier products and are more interested in sustainable, local and artisanal foods.

Raley's homed in on consumers' interest in health by opening its first store under its new “healthy” banner last year. Raley's O-N-E Market opened June 27, 2020, in Truckee, California, featuring a highly curated assortment of products that are fresh, nutritious, organic when possible, minimally processed and sustainably sourced. 

The Lab@AgStart will be located at the Woodland Corporate Center, 1100 Main Street, in downtown Woodland, California. It will be powered in part by renewable energy generated by on-site solar-covered parking and will have energy-efficient LED lighting, UV-C disinfecting HVAC and other upgrades focused on sustainability.

Raley’s joins a public-private partnership that has come together to fund the $1.5 million Lab@AgStart. Other sponsors include The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which is the sponsor of the Yocha Dehe Lab, as well as the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the County of Yolo and the City of Woodland.

Another company fueling food innovation is Battle Creek, Michigan-based Kellogg Co., which recently revealed its collaboration with the virtual Future Food-Tech event. The food manufacturer plans to focus on plant-based solutions tailored to improving digestive health.

Privately owned and family-operated Raley’s operates more than 120 stores under six banners: Raley’s, Bel Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods, Food Source, Market 5-ONE-5 and Raley’s O-N-E Market. The company is No. 59 on The PG 100,  Progressive Grocer's 2020 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

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