UACES Facebook Director of food processing center at the Market Center of the Ozarks named
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Director of food processing center at the Market Center of the Ozarks named

Oct. 25, 2023

By Nick Kordsmeier
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast facts:

  • AFIC@MCO, a new food processing center and commercial kitchen, set to open late 2024.
  • One of two food processing centers operated by food science department, Division of Ag.
  • New director brings food science and culinary training to role.

(852 words)

Download photo of Darryl Holliday

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Arkansas Food Innovation Center at the Market Center of the Ozarks has a new director.

Portrait photo of Darryl Holliday in front of a white background.
FOOD HUB — Darryl Holliday was named the director of the Arkansas Food Innovation Center at the Market Center of the Ozarks and brings a combination of food science experience and culinary expertise to the role. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo)

“I’m really excited about the new role,” said Darryl Holliday, who joined the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in August. “I’m thrilled to bring my knowledge, my skill set to northwest Arkansas in ways of being able to support small business, local food distribution and food manufacturing.”

The Arkansas Food Innovation Center at the Market Center of the Ozarks, also known as AFIC@MCO, is a food processing center part of the Division of Agriculture’s food science department. It will operate out of the Market Center of the Ozarks, a 45,000-square-foot local food facility in downtown Springdale built with support from the Walton Family Foundation as part of the Northwest Arkansas Food Systems initiative. Currently under construction, the nearly $31 million facility will create a hub to grow Northwest Arkansas’ agriculture and food economy and serve the needs of the region’s farmers, food entrepreneurs and food buyers.

When it opens for business in late 2024, AFIC@MCO will offer a rentable commercial kitchen space for food trucks, caterers and other food entrepreneurs, Holliday said. AFIC@MCO will also operate a produce processing system to convert local farmers’ produce into value-added products with options for creating refrigerated fresh, frozen and some shelf-stable products.

At the heart of AFIC@MCO is a desire to create opportunities for food entrepreneurs who might not have the resources to start a business.

“It basically creates an equitable opportunity for anyone who wants to be a food entrepreneur,” Holliday said. “They don’t have to worry about, ‘I don’t have the money to buy the equipment to start my company, I don’t have the money to purchase a kitchen to run a catering company’.”

“Darryl comes to us with a strong set of credentials, both academically and experientially,” said Deacue Fields, vice president-Agriculture for the University of Arkansas System. “We are looking forward to having him on board for this program.” 

Jeyam Subbiah, head of the food science department, said Holliday brings a unique combination of skills that make him a natural fit for the role.

“Darryl has degrees and expertise in both culinary arts and food science, which are critical for operating the commissary kitchen and food processing plant at AFIC@MCO,” Subbiah said. “He also has both academic and industry experiences to manage this public-private partnership. 

“He brings his past experiences of grant writing, facilities build-up, working with food companies, business consulting and processing, which are necessary for jump-starting this new facility,” Subbiah said. 

Food processing centers at the Division of Agriculture

The Division of Agriculture is home to two independently operated food processing centers — AFIC@MCO in Springdale and the original Arkansas Food Innovation Center, based at the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville. Both locations are units of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture.

The original AFIC shares in the mission of creating opportunities for food entrepreneurs and specializes in helping food startups and small businesses scale up recipes to produce shelf-stable products that can be sold in farmers markets, grocery stores and anywhere else people buy food, John Swenson, manager of the original AFIC, said. This location has all the equipment needed to prepare, cook and bottle food products.

“AFIC’s role is to provide services to food startup companies that are looking to do thermal processing of products that we put in jars or cans,” Swenson said. “So, think of things that are shelf stable in Walmart, in a jar, in a can, that’s our main focus.”

Holliday said that experts at both AFIC@MCO and the original AFIC will provide clients with all the training they need to operate the food processing equipment. Both locations can also help create nutrition labels, perform product testing and provide regulatory advice.

Both locations offer some unique services, too. The original AFIC can provide process authority certification — required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for acidified and low-acid canned products — and AFIC@MCO will offer business training classes to help businesses expand their reach.

From Louisiana to Arkansas

Holliday comes to the Division of Agriculture from the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans, where he was an associate professor and director of the food science program.

At the University of Holy Cross, Holliday worked with small local companies, either in the startup or the growth phases.

“I really like being able to work directly with the company to help them translate their culinary vision,” Holliday said.

Part of his work was helping new companies reduce costs and be more profitable to build wealth and extend the life of their business.

“I'm really excited to be able to support all the different groups and communities that are here in northwest Arkansas,” he said.

Holliday completed his undergraduate education at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University. He then earned a master’s degree in food science at Louisiana State University. After a brief stint working in the food industry, Holliday earned a doctorate in food science, also from Louisiana State University.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on X at @ArkAgResearch. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on X and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on X at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices.

Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media contact:
Nick Kordsmeier