From the formulator’s viewpoint, one of the most welcome changes among ingredient suppliers is their creation of innovation centers. These customer-centric facilities allow collaboration in creative settings where ideas quickly flow back and forth between formulator and supplier. Such centers work with “open innovation” platforms, but they also handle proprietary projects.

During the past two years, several innovation centers opened their doors to cater to bakery and snack applications. These locations add to the already impressive number of similar installations.

Such centers represent considerable investments by ingredient manufacturers in both physical facilities and the technical and scientific personnel who staff them. But the purpose is quite clear cut. According to Bill Troy, COO of IOI Loders Croklaan Americas, Channahon, IL, speaking at the September 2013 opening of the company’s new Creative Studio, the new facility allows customer and supplier to collaborate in person so that back-and-forth communications take place rapidly. Ideas can turn into reality quickly. “It can do a two-year job in one month,” he said.

Click for a slideshow of innovation centers.

The rapid shift of new product inspiration from past years’ interest in duplicating mom’s home-cooking to today’s fascination with all things chef-inspired has shaped how these new centers do business. Ingredient innovation centers often align with culinary influences. That’s what Bio Springer chose when it announced the January 2014 relocation from Montreal to Milwaukee, WI. It’s planning to open a culinary applications center at the new site by July.

For bakers, there’s also been a laser-like focus on this industry’s technologies in several innovation center announcements. IOI Loders Croklaan Americas installed a revolving tray oven and lab-style proofer along with a donut fryer in its new Creative Studio, which also houses a large pilot-scale enrobing tunnel.

This month, Baking & Snack reports about the newest of these innovation centers, those opened within the past two years, and notes capabilities of interest to bakers and snack food manufacturers.

Cargill expands for efficient R&D

Cargill invested $12 million in its European Research and Development Center at Vilvoorde, Belgium, for a new state-of-the-art pilot plant and 53,000 sq ft of additional innovation space. The company said this expansion will enable customers to scale-up next-generation ingredients used in a wide range of products, including baked foods and snacks.

“This investment will help us maintain and grow our leading research and development capabilities and shows Cargill’s continuing commitment to sustainable growth through innovation,” said Didier Bonnet, global food research leader at Cargill, about the new research hub. Reflecting its growing global presence, the company has opened innovation centers in Brazil and India.

Featured in the expansion is new equipment, including a spray dryer that allows Cargill to speed up the development of new ingredients as well as continually improve their existing products. With these additional capabilities and a team of 145 food scientists and technologists, innovation becomes more efficient.

“Food and beverage manufacturers are challenged to drive growth through product innovation while keeping costs in check,” said Adam Waehner, Cargill assistant vice-president and technical services leader. “The expansion of our Vilvoorde facility will help our customers shorten product development cycles and optimize costs.”

DuPont aims high

DuPont opened its second US innovation center — and its 12th around the world — at Johnson, IA, in the Des Moines metro area. It focuses on science related to food, agriculture and energy value chains. The 3,500-sq-ft center and adjoining collaboration room showcase the company’s technology, applications and products.

When she celebrated the June 2013 opening of the Johnson Innovation Center, Ellen Kullman, DuPont’s chair and CEO, called attention to the role science must play in addressing the world’s big challenges of feeding a growing global population. “The key is to quickly connect our integrated science to the market,” she said. “The Innovation Centers enable DuPont to harness its global science capabilities to create local solutions that are tailored to meet the most pressing market needs.”

Ms. Kullman also noted that DuPont Pioneer planned to break ground on a new research facility, Beaver Creek II, also at Johnson. DuPont Pioneer, formerly Pioneer Hi-Bred, is the largest US producer of hybrid seed for agriculture. The company will also be investing $200 million in its Nevada, IA, commercial cellulosic ethanol production facility. When all is said and done, the facility will employ more than 60 full-time workers and involve hundreds of farmers who will supply the stover to the facility. DuPont hopes both projects will have an impact on the issue of feeding the world’s rapidly growing population.

Loders Croklaan gets creative

On Sept. 5, 2013, IOI Loders Croklaan Americas brought its Creative Studio to its headquarters in Channahon, IL. This third facility by the parent company IOI Edible Oils, with the other two in The Netherlands and Malaysia, aims to foster creativity and collaboration with the company’s customers who stop by for their product development needs.

“The Creative Studio is much more than yet another facility with equipment,” said Maarten Goos, IOI Loders Croklaan marketing manager. “It’s a place where partnership, creativity and unique expertise come together to create big ideas.”

The two-story, 16,000-sq-ft building features the Creative Studio on its first floor while administrative offices take up the second. The studio has two development laboratories that house lab and pilot-scale equipment. The bakery studio offers a dry mix blender, bench-top vertical mixers, an aerating mixer, rack oven, combination proofer and deck oven, cake donut depositors and a restaurant-size fryer. In the confectionary lab, customers can play with a mix-blend-conch system, a tempering unit, three-zone cooling tunnel, panner-coater and ice cream freezers. Both labs can handle all production ranges from retail to high-volume.

“The customer will have the benefit of the same approach here as in the Creative Studio sites in Europe and Asia,” said Bill Troy, COO, IOI Loders Croklaan Americas. “In Europe, confectionery has the larger profile while in the US, bakery is bigger.”

Tim Surin, director of sales and marketing, North America, explained the concept behind the Creative Studio as “a very relaxed environment with a thoughtful side and an action side.” The studio offers classrooms and conference areas where customers can generate ideas before moving into the studio side to create. “This is an artisanal, creative approach to a very scientific world,” he said.

Sensient fosters collaboration

Sensient Flavors & Fragrances renovated its Hoffman Estates, IL, R&D facility to allow more collaboration. It changed the site’s two-story, 66,000-sq-ft facility from a closed environment of many offices to large, naturally lit spaces that can be readily reconfigured for various projects. The lab now houses a culinary kitchen as well as commercial-sized pilot plants to help customers scale up flavor applications.

The facility also has a three-story laboratory wing and a two-story office wing with a two-story atrium bringing the two together. The flavorist labs are now open spaces, enclosed only in frosted glass without doors. Ventilated cabinets, fume hoods and spot exhausts maintain the proper lab environment and contain odors while enabling the labs to be open and collaborative. The second and third floor labs also incorporate open bench areas and semi-enclosed lab space to facilitate organization and teamwork.

At the heart of the center is the culinary demonstration area, which is also enclosed by a glass wall. With these areas visible from the lobby, the design creates a dramatic, intimate space that heightens the tasting and dining experience for its clients, the company observed.

Beyond an open floor plan, Sensient Flavors & Fragrances also aimed at making its R&D facility to be more flexible. Because the labs work with an array of clients with different needs, the center needs to be able to reconfigure work areas quickly to accommodate those requirements. According to the company, the space can be transformed overnight or over a weekend to adapt to a customer’s needs with little to no cost involved.

The facility’s mechanical rooms are located in the middle of the lab wing to optimize energy efficiency. Individual lab units surround the central mechanical room offering work rooms for Sensient’s beverage, sweet and savory teams.

The pilot plant enables customers to see their flavor solutions work in large-scale production, and analytical laboratories make room for researchers.

When building from the ground up, Sensient took its R&D needs seriously and created a space that cultivates collaboration and provides solutions for bakers and snack producers.

Tate & Lyle builds platforms

Tate & Lyle’s new Global Commer-cial and Food Innovation Center has been finding solutions to the most challenging demands in today’s baking industry since it opened in Hoffman Estates, IL, in June 2012. Bakers and snack manufacturers who have visited the facility have found applications and ingredient technology labs, a culinary demonstration kitchen, consumer insight and sensory testing facilities, and a pilot plant.

The pilot plant offers prototype manufacturing capabilities including a continuous cookie and cracker processing line, one of only two suppliers in North America to offer such a service to customers.

“Customers use our equipment to make products for validation and consumer trials,” said Judy Turner, director of culinary at Tate & Lyle. “That’s one step further than other ingredient partners: Our customers don’t have to repurpose their own production lines or take a lot of time to do it at the bench.” Bakers can test cook times and temperatures in the five-zone oven and refine the crunchiness and crispness of either wire cut or rotary mold cookies.

Tate & Lyle’s labs, kitchen and pilot plant capabilities encourage collaboration with its team. Bakers and snack manufacturers can work with food scientists, marketers and product managers as well as culinary and sensory teams. These teams focus on three platforms: sweeteners, texturants, and health and wellness.

“Designed to enable side-by-side collaboration with food and beverage manufacturers from ‘idea-to-plate,’ the Innovation Center helps customers work with Tate & Lyle on ideation, sensory testing, commercialization and nutritional studies,” Ms. Turner said. “This enables food and beverage manufacturers to confidently and rapidly deliver innovative and customized solutions that satisfy consumers’ increasing demand for health, convenience, value and taste.”

Meeting the challenge of improving the healthfulness of products while maintaining taste has been the focus of many of the center’s projects in the past two years, including reducing sodium in salted, baked snack ships and calorie and sugar reduction in cereal bars.

In the case of sodium reduction, a leading snack chip manufacturer needed help meeting its goal of reducing sodium by 15% in topically salted, baked snack chips and wanted to use Tate & Lyle’s cookie/cracker processing line. “We took the product and made samples that met the manufacturer’s criteria using our proprietary sodium reduction technology, Soda-Lo Salt Microspheres,” Ms. Turner explained.

In the realm of sweeteners and texture, Tate & Lyle has helped a customer reduce calories and sugar in its cereal bar while retaining the same sweetness and texture. “We worked in partnership with the customer to reformulate the bar using Splenda Sucralose for sweetness and Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber for texture,” she said. The new bar performed well in the sensory testing lab.

The center isn’t a static place; it was built to stay relevant for the future. “We’ve built in a lot of flexibility so that additional labs can be added for any new focus that may come,” Mr. Turner said. “We continually evaluate the trends in equipment and processing to keep our technology up to date, and we move equipment in and out as needed to ensure we always have the right equipment for the project on hand.”

With today’s rapidly changing food industry and ever-demanding consumers, that kind of support is just what bakers and snack manufacturers need to maintain a vibrant product development pipeline.