By Michele Brown, President and CEO, Choose New Jersey, Inc.
New Jersey is known as the Garden State for good reason. With more than 10,300 farms spread across 730,000 acres, it ranks among the top producers of cranberries, bell peppers, spinach and peaches in the United States. It is the birthplace of the legendary New Jersey tomato, which since 1934 has found its way into a variety of condiments, sauces and soups, including iconic Campbell’s Tomato Soup.
Growth is the operative word: It’s not just fruits and vegetables that are growing in the Garden State. In addition to Campbell Soup Company, which has been headquartered in New Jersey since 1869, more than 1,900 food manufacturing companies and thousands of food distribution centers, retailers and restaurants now call New Jersey home. In fact, food is one of the fastest growth segments of the state’s economy.
Why? A growing number of food companies are finding that the Garden State has the location, assets and resources that make it a perfect fit for foodies.
Where Strategic Location Meets Affordable Space
The reason many food companies are making the decision to locate or expand in New Jersey is not arbitrary. It’s strategic. The Garden State is perfectly located in the heart of U.S. Northeast corridor, giving food companies easy access to one of the most concentrated and affluent consumer markets in the world. A distribution center in central New Jersey can serve more than twenty million consumers who collectively have nearly $800 billion in disposable income and live within a two-hour drive.
That’s why an increasing number of same-day delivery companies believe that a New Jersey location gives them a competitive advantage. HelloFresh, a German-headquartered food delivery service, opened a 44,000-square-foot warehouse in Linden in February 2015. A little over a year later, it announced it would open a new 352,000-square-foot distribution facility in Newark to accommodate the company’s growth.
Likewise, online grocery seller Jet.com, launched just last July, doubled down on its New Jersey investment this year. After announcing it would up the size of its Hoboken headquarters two-fold, the company leased an additional 705,000-square-foot distribution facility in South Jersey to position itself for overnight deliveries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States.
In addition to the ability to reach a diverse and affluent consumer market, food companies that rely on access to a reliable transportation infrastructure find it in New Jersey. With more than 138,000 miles of Interstates and highways and an unrivalled rail cargo network, companies can easily move products and connect with suppliers and retailers anywhere in North America.
Beverage maker Bai Brands, a business that was born in a Princeton basement in 2009 and rose to Forbes’ list of “America’s 20 Most Promising Companies” in 2015, made the decision to stay in New Jersey to support the rapid growth of its line of antioxidant-rich beverages. The company chose a 225,000 square-foot warehouse in Bordentown once owned by Ocean Spray for its main storage and distribution facility.
New Jersey also has the second-largest port in North America: The Port of New York and New Jersey, which is the largest maritime cargo center in the Northeast, which makes it easy for companies to import and export food products and ingredients.
That’s a big plus for companies such as Atalanta Corporation, a family-owned company that imports thousands of food items from across the globe. Access to New Jersey’s deep water Ports of Newark and Elizabeth and the adjacent road and rail networks, has helped the 70-year-old Elizabeth-based company expand its portfolio and customer base as the market for specialty imported food grows.
While many food companies come to the Garden State specifically for its location, others are equally attracted to the State’s affordable real estate, which offers them more space for the money than neighboring New York.
Junior’s Cheesecake and Streit’s Matzo – manufacturers of quintessentially New York food products – both made the move to New Jersey, where affordable space for manufacturing and distribution is widely available.
A Highly-Educated Workforce Guides Food’s Future
With the highest concentration of scientists and engineers per square mile in the world, New Jersey has become an increasingly-attractive location for cutting-edge research and trailblazing the future of food production.
Nestlé Health Science conducted a worldwide three-year search to find the perfect location for its new headquarters and R&D facility, and ultimately chose New Jersey. The subsidiary of the Swiss food and beverage company cited the “commercial and technical competence” of the Garden State’s workforce as a key factor in its decision. Recognizing the value of New Jersey’s highly-educated workforce, global food giants, Unilever and Pinnacle Foods both also chose headquarters and R&D centers here.
The availability of top talent also has been a primary factor in the growth of other food sectors that require specific technical or scientific expertise. For example, New Jersey is home to more than 125 flavor and fragrance companies, including nine of the top ten companies worldwide. In fact, the concentration of jobs in the State’s flavor and fragrance sector is three times the national average.
New Jersey “know how” contributes to new technologies for food production, too. AeroFarms, the commercial leader for indoor vertical farming, recently relocated from Ithaca, New York to pioneer urban farming in Newark. The company transformed a 69,000-square-foot former industrial site into a hydroponic indoor vertical farm, revolutionizing food production and giving new meaning to “locally grown.”
Supporting Food Companies as They Grow: Incubators, Training and Other Resources
New Jersey offers a full menu of resources to support food companies at every stage of their growth, from unique agricultural programs, to incubators and workforce training programs.
For instance, they can take advantage of Rutgers University’s renowned agriculture programs, its New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health and the Rutgers Food Innovation Center. The unique incubator in Bridgeton supports start-ups, as well as established food companies. The facility provides client companies training, research and business support. It also offers state-of-the-art USDA and FDA-inspected food processing facilities.
The Food Innovation Center has the distinction of being the only “Soft Landings” incubator in the world devoted to food. The International Business Innovation Association designation is reserved for incubators that offer specialized services to help foreign companies break into the U.S. market.
The State also offers competitively-awarded training grants to help companies develop workforce challenge solutions. The New Jersey Talent Networks partner with businesses to develop training, and connect companies with highly-educated, trained employees.
Attractive Incentives to Help Food Companies Grow
Many food companies, large and small, also benefit from generous tax incentives under the Grow New Jersey Assistance Program (Grow NJ).
Companies, including food companies, may qualify for tax breaks under Grow NJ. Technology start-ups and manufacturers may qualify for tax incentives by creating as few as 10 full-time jobs or retaining 25 full-time jobs. Companies in targeted industries – including transportation and logistics – may qualify by creating as few as 25 new jobs or retaining 35 jobs.
Eggo Company, the subsidiary of Kellogg’s that manufactures a variety of frozen breakfast food items, is just one of the New Jersey food companies that has been approved for tax incentives under Grow New Jersey. In October, 2015, the company was awarded $9.4 million over ten years to expand its 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Winslow Township.
Arizona Brewing Company also was approved for $18.9 million in tax incentives over ten years to construct a new 559,915-square-foot manufacturing facility adjacent to its Woodbridge facility. The Grow NJ award is tied to the creation of 100 new jobs, boosting the total number of jobs in Woodbridge to 300.
Thanks to its strategic location, affordable space, highly-educated, skilled workforce and attractive incentives, New Jersey has earned a reputation as the place to be for foodies. In fact, more than 25 food companies have chosen to expand or move here since 2015 and more are on the way. They know that food companies grow in the Garden State.
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Bio: Michele Brown is the President and CEO of Choose New Jersey, Inc., a privately funded 501(c)(3) corporation charged with encouraging and nurturing economic growth throughout New Jersey with a focus on making the state’s most distressed cities engines for growth and opportunity. For more information, visit www.choosenj.com.