Brooklyn food manufacturers are facing a catch-22. On the one hand, the borough is hot, its products in demand around the world and many of its small businesses thriving. On the other, as companies grow and seek to expand, they are faced with a lack of affordable space in the very tight real estate market. Do they move out of the borough and lose their “Made in Brooklyn” cache? Do they stay, but stagnate, damaging their company’s survival chances?
Questions like these require creative answers, and Assemblyman Joe Lentol thinks he may have them. Last week, Lentol hosted a meeting of local food producers, manufacturing representatives from upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley, and that region’s Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi to discuss the possibility of creating a downstate-upstate partnership that would allow companies to grow without relocating to other states.
Under the plan, Brooklyn food manufacturers partner with upstate counterparts that produce similar products, but at lower costs. This “co-packaging” strategy is based on the successful model used by Brooklyn Brewery, which has bottled its beer in upstate New York since the company began. The effective partnership they built with F.X. Matt Brewing Company created jobs in Utica and increased the growth of the Brooklyn brand exponentially.
“There is no reason that Brooklyn food manufactures should be forced to leave the state to produce their product,” Lentol said. “Many of them are even sad about being forced to leave the borough, but searching out the most cost effective solution is sometimes the only alternative. Hopefully opening this dialogue between upstate and downstate will foster amazing future business relationships, and ultimately create jobs all over the state.”
Marisa Wu, who owns Salty Road, a North Brooklyn-based saltwater taffy producer, moved her production to an independent candy maker in Cape Cod last month. Her design and business operations remain in the borough. “We were looking for a co-packer that had specific equipment,” she explained. “I couldn’t find anyone that had this equipment that would be willing to follow my recipes.”
Introducing potential co-packagers from upstate to the mix could help bring her manufacturing back to the state. “There are people with mid-size or even smaller companies that are looking other ways to boost their income and have machinery that would help us really small companies out. I would love to stay in New York, any way I can, and this seems like a great way to do it.”
The next step in the plan is to gauge the needs of local food companies and upstate manufacturers and for the food producers to go upstate to tour the potential co-packagers.
“I think cross-regional partnerships, both in this field and in other areas, can help Brooklyn-based businesses expand, while at the same time opening up upstate markets,” Brindisi added. “I am hopeful that this initial meeting will result in more upstate-downstate collaborations.”