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Bill Strassburg is vice president of strategic initiatives for Wegmans and an active supporter of the local food and agricultural economy. We recently spoke with Strassburg about how Cornell AgriTech has supported the growth of Wegmans and food and agricultural production in New York state.

What are some of the most notable products that Cornell AgriTech has helped Wegmans champion?

A headshot of Bill Strassburg
Bill Strassburg. Photo provided

Broccoli is one of the products that Wegmans used to get 100% from the West Coast – that was inefficient because it takes four days to ship from the West Coast to the East Coast. Cornell AgriTech’s Eastern Broccoli Project helped create a more robust broccoli industry on the East Coast and as a result, at least 80% of the broccoli in our stores comes from the East Coast. Having an East Coast supply of broccoli allows us to deliver a fresher, more locally grown product to consumers.

Cornell AgriTech has particularly helped Wegmans with food safety and the preservation of product freshness and flavor. AgriTech’s HPP (high pressure processing) machine helps test for pathogens that need to be eliminated from food. HPP allows a certain number of foods to be produced without having to pasteurize. This allows products to retain their original flavor.

A great example is our fresh squeezed orange juice. We used to squeeze it at our stores, which limited juice to a three-day shelf life. The use of HPP helped us prolong the juice’s shelf life. Now we are able to squeeze it centrally, ship it to all of our stores and give consumers the delicious fresh squeezed orange juice they demand.

Which Cornell AgriTech services has Wegmans most utilized?

We have most utilized the food safety labs at the Cornell Food Venter Center. These labs have allowed us to do a lot of testing to make sure that our food can be safely consumed by our customers. Without the labs in Geneva we would have to go outside of New York state for these services, which would be inconvenient and more expensive. Additionally, we wouldn’t be as comfortable working with labs outside of the region as we are with the Cornell Food Venture Center.

How does our Cornell Food Venture Center support the local food economy?

The Cornell Food Venture Center has a lot of advantages for the food producers in our region. First, it’s centrally located for a lot of the food production that happens in Upstate New York. Second, it gives an opportunity to food entrepreneurs and innovators to test their products and do some research without having to break the bank. This helps grow the economy because most of the new food industry jobs in New York state are from innovators and entrepreneurs. New York food startup companies are helped significantly by the Cornell Food Venture Center at Cornell AgriTech.

What current food trends has Cornell AgriTech assisted Wegmans with?

Customers value products that they feel are better for their health. As a result, one of the food trends that we've been following and promoting at Wegmans is the organic food movement. Without Cornell AgriTech's expertise on organic crop production, we wouldn’t be as far along with organic products grown at Wegmans’ organic farm and at our partner farms as well.

Sustainability is also important to customers because they want to know that the products they are consuming are produced in an environmentally friendly way. The assistance Cornell AgriTech provides to Wegmans in accessing products from the East Coast helps avoid unnecessary West Coast transit, which is better for the environment.

Looking to the future, what do you think will be the next food production trend?

I think controlled environment agriculture (CEA) will be the wave of the future. CEA may help us grow even more locally grown crops for our consumers on the East Coast. Currently, tomatoes and peppers are already being grown in East Coast CEA greenhouses, but in the future, strawberries, blueberries and other crops will be grown using CEA. New crops are being tested in CEA facilities, and I think that Cornell AgriTech can be a key ingredient in figuring out the most efficient and profitable use of CEA.

Header image: Graduate student holds broccoli from a Cornell AgriTech research field. Photo by: Allison Usavage

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