Eau Claire company seeks to provide more natural ingredient options

By Aisha Liebenow

For WisBusiness.com

Consumer food awareness is on the rise, leading to an increased market demand for sustainable and eco-friendly food products. The food industry is quickly responding to meet this new demand, and companies like Fiberstar Bio-Ingredient Technologies – or FiberStar BIO – are determined to provide more natural ingredient options.

Located in Eau Claire, Wis., Fiberstar BIO is a spin-off company of Fiberstar Inc., a company recognized three times on the Inc5000 list of fastest growing companies in the Unites States. Their product Citri-Fi is an ingredient that is used to stabilize, emulsify and manage moisture in foods without negatively affecting the taste, texture or “mouth feel” of the food product. With this result forming the goal of all Fiberstar and Fiberstar BIO products, both of these companies aim to utilize food processing by-products to promote sustainability in the food industry.

Citri-Fi comes from the by-product of juice producers and is useful for its high water holding capacity in many food applications. When making juice, roughly 50 percent goes to juice and 50 percent to by-product, otherwise known as pulp. By tapping into this waste- stream, Fiberstar and Fiberstar BIO are the first to break the mold in a rapidly growing industry. Fiberstar BIO’s new product Modi-Fi can be created from a wide range of raw materials; however, citrus is currently a top candidate.

Modi-Fi is a plant-based suspending and thickening agent. Often in beverages or dressings the products settle into distinct layers of oil, water and particles. Modi-Fi is able to counteract this process while staying in line with the objective of maintaining a natural taste and texture.

“What we’ve created is very absorbent and the mouthfeel is neutral. With Modi-Fi, we have enhanced suspending and thickening properties that we can see being used for a thousand different applications.” explained Fiberstar BIO President and CEO Brock Lundberg.

The company’s competitors include soluble thickeners – to which Modi-Fi provides a significant cost advantage and avoids the unpleasant mouthfeel often associated with synthetic suspending agents. Fiberstar BIO is hoping to replace the use of these ingredients with their all-natural alternative.

“We have gained a lot of respect for our technology. It has been recognized as some of the most innovative in 20 to 30 years and Modi-Fi will be just another off-shoot of that technology.” said Dale Lindquist, director of sustainable new business development for The Fiberstar Group.

Recently, the company received an SBIR Phase II award of $450,000 to begin development efforts toward commercialization of their product. At this point, they aim to build a production facility to begin producing large-scale samples and revenues. One of their goals in this process is to continue growing their business in Wisconsin.

“I think the work ethic in Wisconsin is different than in other places,” reflected Lindquist, “Doing business in Wisconsin is fantastic and it always has been. Everyone here has been very helpful and are continuing to be helpful.”

So what will be different this time, compared to the commercialization of Citri-fi?

“It will be a lot faster.” assured Lundberg, “not only because of our knowledge and experience [from Citri-fi], but because we have an incredible board of directors and a great team of supporters.”

A presenting company at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, Fiberstar BIO is looking to spur potential investor interest. In 2011, Fiberstar BIO attended the Symposium in recognition of the company’s SBIR Phase 1 grant for the development of new fiber based products.

With the enthusiasm expressed by the food industry and their experienced leadership team, Fiberstar BIO is confident in their sustainable business model and success-driven foundation.

“[Talking with manufacturers] we know that there is need for this product and we have those connections for when we are ready,” Lundberg said.

— Liebenow is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.