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Rewarding innovation

July 8, 2010
By Dennis Timmerman

AURI project development director

The pace at which innovation is taking place is practically mind boggling. From the latest cell phones and computer technologies to the development of bio-based materials, change is happening very rapidly.

While that change can be daunting, it also presents real opportunity for innovative companies.

Each year AURI recognizes one Minnesota business that is achieving market success through an innovative product or process. The Ag Innovator of the Year award is presented annually to recognize the company's innovation and to highlight the contributions value-added agriculture makes to the state's economy. This year's winner has strong ties to southwestern Minnesota.

When entomologist Lee French and his biologist wife Joann first started breeding red corn, they were looking for hybrids that would be bad for pests. For about 30 years the Frenches have supplied research insects to universities and chemical and seed companies to test pesticides and new plant genetics from their business in Lamberton.

In the process of researching red corn they found a hybrid that's good for people. The Frenches and their team of plant breeders were especially interested in the properties of red maize, which gets its intense color from plant pigments which actually contribute to good health. They've turned that discovery into a new business, Suntava.

Suntava produces natural colorants for food items such as soft drinks, vitamin waters, confections, snacks, dairy foods, condiments, cereal and even cosmetics. They also produce flour for food items such as corn chips and tortillas as well as nutraceutical ingredients.

As is the case with most innovations, the business didn't develop overnight. AURI worked with Lee and Joann back in 2002 as they began examining the potential for their red corn and later supported development of Suntava's proprietary extraction and refining methods. Now the company is making remarkable strides in getting Minnesota-grown corn products into new, exciting and innovative places.

To learn more about Suntava or AURI, visit us online at or give us a call at 507-537-7440. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.



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