CHICAGO — Ardent Mills is driving innovation for food service — literally. The Denver-based flour-milling and ingredient company, which represents a combination of the flour milling assets of Cargill, ConAgra Mills and CHS, Inc., presented its Mobile Innovation Center at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show held May 16-19 in Chicago. The converted NASCAR truck includes a fully functional bakery, culinary kitchen and meeting space to facilitate on-site culinary collaboration with food service partners, with a portfolio of multi-use flours, whole grains, sprouted grains, custom blends and more.
“We’ll bring it right to the parking lot of their operations,” said Dan Dye, chief executive officer of Ardent Mills, in an interview with BakingBusiness.com. “That was the idea — bring innovation to the customer…. I think it just lends itself to some fresh thinking and some innovative mindset around how we can create a better product, something unique that will let us meet a customer need.”
Through a network of 40 community mills, 3 bakery mix facilities and a specialty bakery in Portland, Ore., Ardent Mills is poised to provide a broad range of bread solutions for restaurants with a focus on three areas: mainstreaming whole grains, meeting the needs of what the company calls “enlightened eaters,” and providing artisanal, indulgent products.
For the estimated 95% of Americans who do not eat the recommended intake of whole grains, Ardent Mills offers Ultragrain whole wheat flour, which has the taste, texture and appearance of white flour with whole grain nutrition.
During a presentation at the N.R.A. Show, Ardent Mills also discussed the trend of enlightened eating, a confluence in demand for local, ethical and pure ingredients and practices. For these consumers, who seek clean and simple foods, Ardent Mills offers sprouted wheat flour, organic wheat flour, Sustagrain ultra-high fiber barley and Ardent Mills Ancient Grains.
And in its artisan commercial bakery, Ardent Mills is crafting cutting-edge concepts to help restaurants launch signature bread and baked food items, such as bread with fruit inclusions or chocolate swirls.
Mr. Dye said Ardent Mills, which commenced operations last May, is off to a great start in its first year.
“The first year has really been about building the foundation of the organization, integrating the companies together, but at the same time we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose sight of keeping that importance of ‘nourishing what’s next’ at the forefront,” he said. “Now we’re in a great position with the foundation built to really launch innovative and nutritious grain-based solutions. We’re working with customers and we’re really happy about how it’s gone, but we’re really excited about what’s ahead.”
He said the company is uniquely positioned to deliver on demand for local products, with its mills scattered across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, as well as such ingredient trends as sprouted, ancient grains and gluten-free options.“We want to tell the story of the goodness of grains, but we also recognize and respect consumer choice and we provide different products,” Mr. Dye said. “We have gluten-free products, for example. Our perspective on that is, who better to create a gluten-free product than the experts in gluten? We know how gluten performs in baking, we know the characteristics of what you lose if you take gluten out.”