Panhandle startup gains support from Invest Nebraska

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Panhandle startup gains support from Invest Nebraska

Blue Prairie Brands received a boost for its plan to develop a new agricultural sector in the Nebraska panhandle with a recent investment from Invest Nebraska Corporation.

Blue Prairie Brands received a boost for its plan to develop a new agricultural sector in the Nebraska panhandle with a recent investment from Invest Nebraska Corporation.

“We’re always on the lookout for opportunities like this in western Nebraska,” Invest Nebraska CEO Mark Crawford said. “Blue Prairie is ideally positioned to create a new industry in the region. The jobs and economic impact that goes with that is precisely what we hope to accomplish with our investment.”

Invest Nebraska—a public-private venture development organization focused on fostering high-growth, high-paying industry startups and small businesses in Nebraska—invested $250,000 in Blue Prairie Brands. Headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, Blue Prairie is a dietary prebiotic fiber company that plans to produce and manufacture its chicory root-based products in the Scottsbluff area. An agriculture-focused private investment firm, Middleland Capital, led the deal, along with a prominent strategic venture group in California.

“It was vital for us to get that buy-in from the state,” said Blue Prairie CEO Uday Gupta. “It allowed us to get over the critical stage of producing our initial commercial product.”

Since the investment, Blue Prairie’s chicory root crop has ballooned from a single acre at the University of Nebraska Extension one year ago, to a co-op of more than 100 acres grown in western Nebraska today. Often seen growing along roads and highways—and recognized for its small, yet distinctive blue flowers—chicory is prized for its high content of a prebiotic fiber known as inulin.

Inulin is a nutrient that feeds and promotes the growth of the beneficial bacteria, including probiotics, which live in the digestive tract of animals and humans. When used in foods or as a dietary supplement, inulin can help people better manage their weight, restore regular bowel function, and promote stronger bones, according to information on the Blue Prairie website.

There is currently a growing demand for what Gupta called the “functional fiber” of chicory, but there are few producers meeting that demand.

“This functional dietary fiber, inulin, has a huge opportunity to make a big splash,” he said. “Through our efforts, it is now possible to fill an unmet need as the first to offer an inulin-rich flour from chicory root. Specifically, with the chicory flour, consumers will see inulin in baked and dry goods in their supermarket. We’re also excited to produce it domestically, while serving the global market.”

Blue Prairie is currently also using the plant’s harvested roots to produce a roasted chicory-coffee blend and an inulin dietary supplement. Both are currently available for purchase online through Amazon.com. As demand and growth continues, Gupta said Blue Prairie’s need for chicory crops in the area will expand to tens of thousands of acres.

Chief operating officer Brad Justice said that would be a boon not just to Blue Prairie’s bottom line, but to the growers and the entire region. Chicory, he said, is an ideal complement to sugar beets, which has made a dramatic impact on the panhandle region for more than 100 years. The sugar beet industry contributes some $130 million to Nebraska’s economy, and nearly 90 percent of all Nebraska sugar beet production is based in the panhandle region, according to the University of Nebraska Extension website.

“The important thing is that chicory is by definition a value added crop, like sugar beets,” he said. “If more money flows from that field than it did before, then everyone benefits. It’s a win-win situation for both the public and private sectors.”

BROADCAST:

Blue Prairie Brands received a boost for its plan to develop a new agricultural sector in the Nebraska panhandle with a recent investment from Invest Nebraska Corporation—A public-private venture development organization focused on fostering high-growth, high-paying industry startups and small businesses in the state. Invest Nebraska provided a two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar investment in Blue Prairie Brands, a dietary prebiotic fiber company that plans to produce and manufacture its chicory root-based products in the Scottsbluff area. An agriculture-focused private investment firm, Middleland Capital, led the deal, along with a prominent strategic venture group in California. Headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, Blue Prairie’s chicory root crop has ballooned since the investment: From a single acre at the University of Nebraska Extension one year ago, to a co-op of more than 100 acres grown in western Nebraska today. Often seen growing along roads and highways—and recognized for its small, yet distinctive blue flowers—chicory is prized for its high content of a prebiotic fiber known as inulin. Inulin is a nutrient that feeds and promotes the growth of the beneficial bacteria, including probiotics, which live in the digestive tract of animals and humans. When used in foods or as a dietary supplement, inulin can help people better manage their weight, restore regular bowel function, and promote stronger bones, according to information on the Blue Prairie website. Officials say that chicory is an ideal complement to sugar beets, which has made a dramatic impact on the panhandle region for more than 100 years. The sugar beet industry contributes some $130 million to Nebraska’s economy, and nearly 90 percent of all Nebraska sugar beet production is based in the panhandle region, according to the University of Nebraska Extension website.

CONTACT(S):
Dan Hoffman
COO
Invest Nebraska
402-742-7860
dan@investnebraska.com

Uday Gupta
CEO
Blue Prairie Brands
ugupta@blueprairiebrands.com