Aseptia can get cooking now

Influx of $5.4 million will fuel production at Montgomery County plant.

dranii@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2012 

Raleigh food processing company Aseptia has raised $5.4 million in new funding to ramp up production at its facility in Montgomery County.

The latest round of funding from individual investors brings the total outside investment in the business to $7.7 million and comes on the heels of a partnership deal with SIG Combiloc, the No. 2 producer of aseptic cartons used for juice boxes, broths and other food products.

That deal will enable the tiny company - it currently has just three full-time employees - to tap Combiloc's food industry contacts, said J.Michael Drozd, Aseptia's co-founder and CEO.

Aseptia hopes to package foods for corporate customers under the customer's brand names. Combiloc's incentive to help Aseptia land customers is that the more food Aseptia processes, the more Combiloc cartons it needs.

In November, the state announced that Aseptia could receive up to $150,000 in incentives if it meets its three-year target of creating 75 jobs and investing more than $10 million in its plant in Troy, about 75 miles west of Raleigh.

Drozd, who currently operates out of an office in North Raleigh, called the job-creation target conservative.

Drozd is the former CEO of Industrial Microwave Systems, a Morrisville maker of microwave ovens used in factories. The company had about 15 employees and annual revenue of about $1.5 million when it was sold for an undisclosed price in 2003.

Drozd's confidence in Aseptia's prospects is grounded in the company's technology, which was invented by Josip Simunovic and Ken Swartzel, two food scientists at N.C. State University.

Aseptia's patented process for rapidly heating and then rapidly cooling food is designed to provide a better-tasting product. The process quickly kills the bacteria that cause foods to go bad and make people sick without killing the flavor.

"It's really a breakthrough," said Cliff Panish, a key account manager at Combiloc. "They make an applesauce that tastes like you are biting into a fresh apple."

Combiloc is hoping Aseptia's technology will expand the U.S. market for aseptic cartons, which are more popular in Europe.

Aseptia will operate in Troy under the name Wright Foods.

Aseptia was founded in 2006. The company experimented with other ways to capitalize on its technology before deciding to build its own food plant.

It acquired a 37,000-square-foot building in Troy and also is looking to buy some adjacent land that would provide room to expand. The plant should be operating at full capacity by November, Drozd said.

Aseptia also has licensed its technology to Empire Foods, a venture led by Greg Hatem, the company's chairman. Hatem's stable of downtown Raleigh restaurants includes The Raleigh Times, The Pit and Sitti.

Drozd initially doubled as Empire's president and CEO but departed from the company about a year ago. He declined to discuss the reasons for his departure.

Empire expects to begin construction of its plant in Halifax County next month, said Andrew Stewart, who succeeded Drozd as the company's CEO.

Empire is going after a different market - packaging fruits and vegetables for restaurants, hotels, school systems and other institutions.

"We have a number of companies interested in the end product," said Stewart.

Halifax County officials agreed to invest as much as $1.5 million in Empire's production facility, and the company also is eligible to receive up to $400,000 in state incentives for meeting its goal of creating 200 jobs over five years.

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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