Among the large agribusinesses and industry research firms that have moved into the University of Nebraska’s new Food Innovation Center, Suji’s—a small, Korean packaged foods company—stands out. Suji’s, which also goes by Food Dreams Made Real, was founded by Suji Park, a culinary school graduate who popularized American-style delis and brunches in her native Korea. With growing demand for healthy, gluten-free and ethnic prepared foods in the United States, Park saw an opportunity to introduce Americans to Korean staples like bibimbap, a dish that combines rice, meat and vegetables and is traditionally served in a stone pot. Like all of Suji’s products, bibimbap boasts gluten-free ingredients, catering to a market that reached $973 million in 2014.
Park identified Nebraska as the perfect location for Suji’s research and development headquarters, describing the state as the “Silicon Valley of packaged foods.” The Food Innovation Center is a part of the University’s Nebraska Innovation Campus, which had its grand opening in October, 2015.
Ms. Park is not alone in taking advantage of US food trends that favor Asian cuisines. In particular, demand for meatless, gluten- and dairy-free options has prompted interest in Asian dishes, which rely far less on these ingredients. Not surprisingly, industry research has identified Asian frozen or prepared foods as the second most popular ethnic cuisine in this sector, predicting that its market share will only increase. In 2015, Asian food products in US supermarkets reached nearly $462 million.
Food companies based in Asia have also begun to open plants in the US, generating food products to be sold in Asia. These, too, have found Nebraska an attractive home. For instance, in 2013, Thai meat company New Grand Ocean International opened an office in Omaha, where it processes and packages Nebraska meat for Asian markets. That exporters and domestic producers alike have found a home in his state comes as no surprise to Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts, who has touted his state’s strong background and expertise in food production and food processing.
Anna Scott Bell is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an MA Candidate in Asian Studies at Georgetown University.