Startup created thanks to a study on aronia berries

When the American Aronia Berry Association approached Husker researcher Changmou Xu with a problem, he set out to solve it in a big way. He and his wife, Xiaoqing Xie, have worked with many campus entities to increase the value of Aronia Berry through their startup, A+ Berry.

The company focuses on juice products made from aronia berries. Due to their astringency, berries have no inherent demand. However, they have great potential to affect the Midwest and beyond with their high yield value as a crop and impressive health benefits.

They feature significantly higher levels of antioxidants than many other popular berries and are expected to yield a much higher yield per acre than other common Midwestern crops.

Through their research, Xie, Xu and their colleagues, including doctoral student Rui Huang, were able to identify the compounds that contributed to the off-putting taste of the berry.

With the help of many on-campus partners, including the Food Processing Center, NUtech Ventures, and student advertising agency Jacht, Xie and Xu decided to turn their research into a business to further solve the problems of the food industry. aronia berries. They also hope to have a positive impact on Nebraska’s economy.

“I want to show how academic research can add additional benefits to industry,” Xu said. “We can go beyond just publishing and change the industry. It is very important that we as researchers think about how we can bring real added value to stakeholders and consumers. »

The secrets of aronia berries

Xie and Xu were able to identify processes that would lessen the astringency of the berry while retaining its health benefits. They filed the patent with NUtech Ventures, which they use to create products offered by A+ Berry.

A+Berry was founded with a mission to create new, great-tasting beverages with the underutilized “super berry” and machine learning to improve human health. This, in turn, would create demand for aronia berries, which grow exceptionally well in the Midwest and could have a big impact on local agriculture. The Company’s products include AroJuice, AroWine and AroConcentrate.

“AroJuice contains three times the antioxidants, more dietary fiber and only one-third the amount of sugar that is on the regular average,” Xu said.

Xie and Xu enjoyed the adventure of learning how to go from researchers to business partners. They received support and mentorship from across the university and the Midwest, including:

  • The Food Science Department and Food Processing Center, which houses research and start-up. A+ Berry received a $125,000 University Research and Development grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to work with the Food Processing Center, which provides a variety of services to food businesses, such as product development, sensory evaluation, labelling, food safety testing and validation. , and pilot-scale production.
  • NUtech Ventures, which prepares patent applications and trains entrepreneurs, including through the Customer Discovery Program.
  • Office of the Nebraska Innovation Campus, which helps make introductions and conducts customer and partner research. A+ Berry is a partner of NIC.
  • The Combine and Invest Nebraska, which provides business development suggestions and presentation assistance.
  • Jacht Agency, which participated in the design of the logo, the label and the brochure.
  • Nebraska Department of Economic Development, which provided grant support, including a $125,000 University Research and Development Grant (Phase I) and a $5,000 SBIR-STTR Grant (Phase 0).
  • NMotion and Gener8tor: A+ Berry was one of five startups selected by the NMotion pre-accelerator program in 2022. NMotion and its parent company, Gene8tor, provided guidance and resources to grow the business.
  • Nebraska Business Development Center, which helped implement the SBIR program.
  • American Aronia Berry Association, which supported research work and raw materials. A+ Berry is a partner of the AABA.
  • Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which provided several mentors.
  • As a faculty member, Xu has received three grants from the USDA Specialty Crops Program on aronia berry research.

To have an impact

Using these resources, Xie and Xu pledge to make an impact on the Midwest and the country. Midwestern agricultural producers who grow aronia berries want to try a high-value crop that can diversify their operations and increase their income from major crops, such as corn and soybeans.

Aronia berries are estimated to yield four times the yield of major crops – around $1,000 per acre. The berry grows well in the Midwest and offers growers low input costs overall. It can also fetch a higher price (70 cents to $1 a pound wholesale), and 1 acre can produce around 4,000 to 8,000 pounds, Xu says.

Xie and Xu see nationwide impacts through the health and environmental benefits of the berry. By developing products that have this impact, they also increase demand, which will help Midwestern agriculture.

The duo have already sourced over 10,000 pounds of berries through their current AroJuice process, which includes purchasing Aronia berries from Midwestern growers, cold pressing to obtain the juice, enhancing the flavor with patent pending technology, bottling and high pressure processing to inactivate microbes and extend shelf life. They hope to continue supporting the development of the industry by reaching millions of pounds of sourced berries in the near future.

To support this goal, they are developing an alcohol-free wine product called AroWine to mimic the flavor of red wine, based on a database of flavor fingerprints and machine learning algorithms. Their research indicated a societal trend toward non-alcoholic wine and beer, which would align with their company’s health and wellness values.

Next steps

Their next steps are to conduct clinical studies to prove the health benefits of the products developed, particularly on cardiovascular health. They are working on AroConcentrate, a freezing concentrate from AroJuice or AroWine, which reduces their packaging and shipping costs by 75% and has little effect on flavor and nutrition.

They are also looking for other ways to innovate and continue their commitment to a zero waste process, which includes transferring pomace from the juicing process into functional ingredients that can be used for the food, cosmetic or nutraceutical industries.

Xie and Xu are passionate about the aronia berry and have a positive impact on several entities. “We would like to see the aronia berry do for the Midwest what grapes did for California,” they said. Learn more about aplusberry.com.

Hartman writes for University Communications and Marketing.

Comments are closed.