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Fall 2012
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Alumni

Generations & Innovations

This issue’s featured entrepreneurial alumni are turning local vegetables into gourmet ingredients, bringing fresh juice back to the grocery store, making convenience food that is fresh and spicy, diversifying the family farm, and teaching kids about the ‘superpowers’ of vegetables.


Deepak Amin ’88
Deepak Amin

Deepak Amin is part of the second generation managing Deep Foods, Inc., his family’s 35-year-old business selling frozen specialty Indian foods in the United States. Food science degree in hand, Amin joined his mother, father, and older brother at Deep Foods right after graduation.

“I groomed myself for the business,” Amin said. “The science I learned at Cornell, combined with my parents’ passion, has contributed to our continued success.”

Amin jumped into the business with a controversial first project: Building a USDA facility to add meat and chicken dishes to the product line. Customer demand for meat dishes was skyrocketing, but the Amin family was vegetarian. In the name of research, Amin started eating meat.

“People called me a hypocrite, but we put our personal beliefs aside in order to improve the business and our employees’ long-term welfare,” Amin said.

The plant Amin started is now the core of Deep Foods’ business. The company’s brands are carried in 1,800 different stores, and in 2011, their Tandoor Chef brand became the mainstream leader in the Indian market.

As head of research and development for Deep Foods, Amin’s current focus is on two major trends: Americans’ desire for spicier foods, especially Indian, and for fresh packaged foods and meals. A new 40,000-square-foot-production space will facilitate the company’s move from frozen to fresh.

But regardless of expansion on the horizon, Amin said that Deep Foods will continue to be a family affair, rooted in authenticity and accountability to future generations.

 

Kelly Coughlin ’93

Stony BrookIn 2008, Kelly Coughlin and her husband Greg Woodworth, a 1994 graduate of the Hotel School, were visited by their neighbors at Cornell’s New York State Food Venture Center with the seeds of a new business idea: Butternut squash seed oil.

A year later, Woodworth and Coughlin partnered with John B. Martin and Sons Farms to launch Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods. The company produces natural, minimally filtered squash seed oils from the roasted and pressed seeds of butternut, acorn, delicata, and buttercup squash, as well as pumpkins. Their newest product, brined and roasted pumpkin snack seeds, was released this summer.

“Each oil is a different color, flavor and experience,” Woodworth said. “They are an especially good find for people interested in using a domestically produced culinary oil.”

Wholehearted Foods oils can be found in specialty and natural foods markets, as well as fine restaurants, across the Northeast. Their business model has relied less on their individual capital and more on sharing knowledge, risks, and rewards with stakeholders from the Food Venture Center and Martin Farms.

“This partnership has provided an outlet for seeds that we previously treated as waste,” said Jim Martin, ’70, of Martin Farms. “Even the hulls are processed into a seed cake that is sold as a nutritional additive for animal feed. Nothing goes to waste.”

 

Mark & Brian Nicholson ’94

Mark and Brian NicholsonMark and Brian Nicholson are the third generation managing Red Jacket Orchards, their family’s 50-year-old fresh fruit and juice company in Geneva, N.Y. When the brothers entered the business, with B.S. degrees in pomology and agriculture business management and marketing, respectively, the family had just begun making apple and fruit juice blends to supplement their seasonal cider making.

“We started out as a niche market,” said Brian, company president. “Now we are in the process of bringing fresh back to the juice shelf.”

Sales of their fresh-pressed juices and fruit nectars have increased 25 to 50 percent annually for the past several years. And a new 22,000-square-foot kosher and LEED-certified juice processing facility symbolizes their vision to build Red Jacket juices into a national brand, a strategy built on years of experience with direct-to-consumer sales at the New York City Greenmarket and the Geneva farm store.

“Years of feedback from customers helped us prioritize the freshness and flavor of the juices over more commercial attributes,” said Mark, company executive vice president.

The juices get their freshness from a traditional “rack and cloth” pressing process, no added sugar or concentrates, and minimal filtering. It sounds simple, but Mark and Brian have fine-tuned the process by working extensively with the Cornell community.

“The Cornell network is a big part of our success,” Brian said. “We’ve benefited from being near the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, both through education and ongoing collaboration with scientists on product development. The New York State Food Venture Center helped us perfect this product—we wouldn’t be where we are without their expertise.”

This fall, Red Jacket will reach out to its newest generation of customers through a student ambassador program on six New York state college campuses, including Cornell. Ambassadors will give away free samples and promotional items, creating awareness of Red Jacket’s all-natural juices.

 

Ed Harbes IV ’05

Ed Harbes When Ed Harbes IV graduated with a B.S. degree in applied economics and management, he went back to his family’s farm. But he did not return to a traditional commodity farm; after 12 generations of farming on Long Island, N.Y., the Harbes had become innovators in retail agriculture.

Started as a roadside farm stand in 1989, Harbes Family Farms & Vineyard today encompasses three locations, a farm market, a barnyard petting farm, a cafe and bakery, family-oriented activities, u-pick crops, and a winery. Their latest expansion, a dwarf apple orchard, was planted in 2010.

“My Cornell education gave me the skills and tools to run a competitive and innovative farm,” Harbes said. “It’s been a very exciting and rewarding experience.”

As vineyard manager, Ed tends the vines and chooses which wine styles to make based on a given year’s harvest. He is also securing his family’s heritage by working closely with Cornell Cooperative Extension to implement farming strategies that preserve soil quality but use fewer inputs to grow excellent products.

“It’s important to always be innovating,” Harbes said. “The future of our farm is in successfully marketing value-added farm products directly to the public while continuously improving our farming practices.”

 


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