Now imagine that the main ingredients were grown on Maui, the recipe was created here, the juice was mixed and bottled here, and you can find it in any local store and restaurant. This scenario is the guiding vision of the Maui Food Technology Center (MFTC).
According to Michael Abrams, food technologist, president and founder of MFTC in 2004, this nonprofit 501(c)3 food center was conceived in order to “create more demand for Hawai‘i-grown produce, to help farmers and entrepreneurs, and to give students a place to work as they graduate from UH Maui College’s Culinary Academy.”
“Why is it that every convenience store in Florida sells fresh orange juice from Florida, while we can’t find fresh pineapple, papaya, coconut or guava juice from Maui anywhere?” asked Abrams. “Our organization was designed to help turn Maui’s bounty into stable food products for sale all over Hawai‘i and the world.”
Maui Food Technology Center (MFTC) President Michael Abrams and Board Member Susan Campbell complete a successful meeting with Susie Thieman at the Maui County Business Resource Center. The nonprofit MFTC aims to help businesspeople and farmers create locally-grown and packaged foods right here on Maui.
Abrams is part of the MFTC board of directors, who encompass a diverse range of food expertise. The board also includes Chef Chris Speere, director of the Maui Culinary Academy and its Research and Development Center; Warren Watanabe, a Kula farmer and executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau; Luana Mahi, a natural and organic products broker in Hawai‘i; and Susan Campbell, a chef, food author, DVD food instructor and chair of Slow Foods Maui.
Jeanne Skog, the president and CEO of the Maui Economic Development Board, is the board’s resident expert on navigating county, state and federal rules and regulations, according to Abrams.
Nina Tanabe rounds out the board as a food scientist with over 30 years of experience. She conducts the food testing and recipe design, making products safe and stable for long-term sales. Her responsibilities include formulating the physical, chemical, taste and aroma profiles, while assuring the pH is correct and there is enough preservative to prevent microbial growth that would compromise the product or public health.
The MFTC brochure states that entrepreneurs interested in creating a processed food to add value to their produce utilize the following services:
• A scientific measurement of food quality, including chemical, microbial and sensory evaluations;
• Product and process development, including sourcing for ingredients, equipment, supplies and co-packers (the company that will safely produce and package the product);
• Food labeling, including the nutritional facts panel, ingredient statement and allergen declaration.
Mahi recommends that entrepreneurs first research the requirements for processed food. “Look before you leap!” she said. “They can make their first stop at MFTC to learn all that goes into creating a safe and marketable product. Or they can stop at the state Department of Health to get the rules and regulations for processing food, and then come to MFTC. Either way, we’re here to help people create locally-grown packaged foods.”
Although food security is a major area of concern for Hawai‘i, Abrams noted that local food producers must go to the Mainland to process and package their products because there is no facility on Maui.
Mahi added that most small- and medium-sized producers prefer to have their own certified kitchens, and package and label themselves.
“These producers usually can’t afford to hire outside help,” Mahi added. “But if they choose to get larger, they should know that MFTC, being a local nonprofit, is much cheaper than Mainland food science services. If they’re ready to market to Mana, Costco or Whole Foods, MFTC can help them prepare for that leap in production and marketing. We’ll do the upfront preparation and connect them with a co-packer.”
One way or another, Abrams and Mahi hope to see a food science lab on Maui soon. The possibility of a food science program at UHMC excites them, and they look forward to the day that the Valley Isle will have a food processing and packaging facility to make it possible for farming to be truly profitable here.
“What do you do with Kula onions that can’t be sold?” posed Mahi. “Why not dry them or turn them into a soup mix? There are so many ways our land, soil and sunlight could be turned into local, healthy, delicious food for our island. We want to be part of that dream.”
At next year’s Maui Ag Fest at Maui Tropical Plantation, MFTC will host a food production competition. The creator of most delicious dish made from local Maui ingredients will win the full services of MFTC—in-depth help turn the tasty idea into a marketable product.