Keeping an eye on consumer trends often means listening to what has made the industry so successful over the years. The competitive heart of the bakery and snack industries beats to the drum of innovation. New products make the industry go around, and companies are always looking for the latest and greatest idea to formulate, bake, package and put on the shelf. New product development takes time, expertise, a lot of trial and error, and space to play in.

Ingredient suppliers have provided that space and expertise to help bakers and snack manufacturers formulate new products through innovation centers. These centers offer application labs, sensory and consumer testing facilities, pilot plants as well as experts to help throughout the process. Several ingredient companies have taken innovation seriously by investing in new or expanded centers that centralize operations and offer space for collaboration between bakers, snack producers and ingredient experts.

Evaluating the ROI on R&D

R&D can be a costly endeavor, but one that will ensure a company’s future. As an added service, ingredient companies offer R&D capabilities and expertise. This allows smaller manufacturers to get their hands dirty in product development and maybe help some larger companies save some money.

“R&D is very expensive, and a lot of these companies are going away from having it to rely heavily on suppliers to do that for them,” said Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing at Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, MA. Bay

State Milling is just one of the ingredient suppliers that invested in its R&D services in the past two years. The company took its product development capabilities from a bake lab in the back of a flour mill to a full lab that can produce commercial white pan bread, whole-grain breads, rye breads, sweet goods, tortillas and whole-grain pizza crusts. Already the company has developed indulgent whole-grain sweet goods and worked with pizza manufacturers to produce a mix for the new school lunch requirements proposed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Grain Processing Corp., Muscatine, IA, opened its solution center in May. Located in the Technical Development Center at the company’s headquarters, the expansion provides technical and research teams with a kitchen, lab and presentation area.

Last year, Roquette America, Inc., Keokuk, IA, built a multi-million-dollar innovation center in Geneva, IL, The center’s human nutrition lab can reformulate existing products or innovate new ones for cereals, bars and bakery including cakes, muffins, cookies, breads, fillings, glazes and icings. The lab can develop extruded and sheeted items. The center houses a demonstration kitchen, analytical laboratories and a pilot facility. Beyond labs and kitchens to play in, the center also features an auditorium to house Roquette University where visitors can learn about regulation, trends and technical developments.

In 2011 at Food Ingredients Europe, Beneo Group, Tienen, Belgium, announced its new technology center, an investment that complemented the Beneo Institute, which the company opened in 2009. Both are located in Mannheim, Germany.

“It represents the technical aspect of Beneo as an added level to the nutritional and health focus represented by the Beneo Institute,” said Rudy Wouters, vice-president of the technology center. The center gives customers the opportunity to pick the brains of specialists about product development and formulation including composition aspects, nutritional benefits, taste and texture. So far, the technology center has developed samples of gluten-free whole grain cookies, gluten-free high-fiber bread and concepts in baked goods and cereals enriched with fiber but reduced in sugar.

Kerry Ingredients is investing globally in innovation as well. In addition to expanding its existing Center of Excellence in Beloit, WI, the company recently opened a center just outside Mexico City, Mexico. Kerry also plans to build centers in Asia and Europe that mirror the Beloit facility. The additions at Beloit includes expanded beverage and flavor labs as well as nutritional and pharmaceutical, taste, and innovation suites. The center offers innovation labs, customer suites that imitate consumer environments, development suites and labs where scientists can work on formulation and sensory and consumer insight labs where the company can conduct tests and focus groups. It also features two sets of pilot facilities: one to simulate customers’ processes and the other to replicate Kerry’s manufacturing activities.

Tate & Lyle PLC, London, UK, expanded its Commercial and Food Innovation Center in Chicago, IL, This latest facility joins a list of other centers of creativity and experimentation located throughout the world in China, France, India, Germany, Argentina, Australia and South Africa. Tate & Lyle equipped the new 110,000-sq-ft location with labs, a demonstration kitchen and facilities for sensory and analytical testing and pilot plants.

In March 2011, DSM NV, Heerlen, The Netherlands, expanded its network of application labs by opening its Nutrition Innovation Center in Parsippany, NJ, where it houses a lab, fully equipped pilot plant and sensory analysis facilities. The center’s bakery lab is equipped with bread and cake mixers, fermentation cabinet, divider, rounder, sheeter, moulder, proof box and revolving tray oven, plus loaf volumeter and texture analyzer for final product analysis. 

Tackling R&D as a bakery

Some baking and snack companies are investing in their own innovation centers. Pepperidge Farm, Inc., Norwalk, CT, and Snyder’s-Lance, Inc., Charlotte, NC, both made multi-million-dollar commitments to product development by building their own innovation centers. Pepperidge Farm’s will have a pilot plant with product development and testing lines, culinary kitchens, scientific labs and meeting rooms. At $30 million, the center embodies the company’s commitment to new product development. The pilot plant will allow Pepperidge Farm to use new equipment for faster and broader exploration of new ideas at a lower cost. The center is scheduled to open this fall.

Snyder’s-Lance’s Research and Development Center — which will be located in Hanover, PA, near one of the company’s largest bakeries — will research and develop new and existing products across the company’s product portfolio.

Snyder’s-Lance’s new facility will include a full microbiology lab as well as the capabilities to ensure more detailed product and quality comparisons and sensory evaluations.

Kraft Foods, Inc., Northfield, IL, last year invested in the biscuits category in Europe by constructing and opening its European Biscuits R&D Center in Saclay, France. The $19 million facility employs 120 people including engineers, nutritionists and chefs. The center features a fully equipped pilot plant with a new soft cake line as well as labs for physical and chemical analysis. Complementing Kraft Foods’ other biscuit R&D center in East Hanover, NJ, the EU location focuses on soft cake technology, health and wellness, and choco-bakery platforms.

Centralizing the commitment

Bay State Milling has long worked with customers to develop new flours and mixes to suit their needs, but building a center devoted solely to meeting those needs centralized a previously disjointed venture. Before, the company’s experts and equipment were spread throughout its various mills, but the new center brings an expanded new product team and equipment all under one roof. 

“Now, we’re just able to do it much more efficiently and more effectively than in the past because we have more resources at our fingertips whether it’s people, equipment or skills,” Ms. Zammer said. The company expanded its center’s staff to include four full-time employees with backgrounds in bakery science, food science, culinology and commercial baking. Bay State Milling also has a corporate chef who uses the center. The facility gives the whole team more opportunities to experiment than before, which makes the team more efficient and proficient.

“We’ve become true experts with our own products now that we’re working with them on a regular basis across different applications,” Ms. Zammer said.

Roquette America allowed the idea of centralizing operations to influence the decision about its new center’s location. The company chose to build in suburban Chicago, IL, making the facility easily accessible to customers in North America via the city’s nearby international airport.

In establishing its Center of Excellence, Kerry Ingredients’ main goal was to bring all its technologies into one location to eliminate the need to bounce from location to location to develop one new product. Having a plethora of labs and test centers with different capabilities all at one site means bakers and snack brand owners and manufacturers can go through the entire product development process without leaving the center.

Bringing all these technologies and departments under one roof allows customers to work across multiple applications in one location, said Andy Royston, chief marketing officer for the company. With everything centralized, customers no longer need to visit multiple vendors and suppliers in different locations to work on one project.

Tate & Lyle developed its new Commercial and Food Innovation Center in Chicago with the idea that it would serve as the headquarters for the company’s global Innovation and Commercial Development group as well as the regional headquarters for the Specialty Food Ingredients business in North America. The company is centralizing operations even further in this innovation center by using it as a base for US employees with global responsibilities.

Collaborating on creativity

Khaled Zitoun, chief technology officer for Kerry, said the biggest challenge involves communicating with the customer about what the end product is supposed to deliver. The key is an upfront collaboration or partnership with the customer. This is followed by understanding the challenges in terms of functionality, stability, flavor and shelf life.

“Sometimes you want a product to be shelf stable, but you also want the fillings to be gooey and the product to be low in fat, which can be a serious technical challenge,” Mr. Zitoun said. “That’s why it is so important to understand the technical concept and what the customer is trying to deliver.”

Bay State Milling managers agreed collaboration is key to the success of product development. When bakers come to the company’s center, they will find a team approach to the task. Ms. Zammer said her colleagues love having customers work side by side with Bay State Milling’s team, using the lab’s equipment. The process at Bay State Milling starts with communication to ensure the customer’s needs are met, but the company supports the new product through the commercialization process as well.

“We usually like to run it on the customer’s equipment as much as possible after our bench work is done because that is the real world,” said Susan Kay, manager of product application. “We will go with them and work side by side in their facility.”

Roquette America took collaboration seriously when designing its center. The workspaces are open with only one or two closed-door offices existing in the entire building. The remaining employees work at desks in shared work areas. The sales team is separated from the labs only by a change in flooring from carpet to tile. This environment fosters collaboration between all the teams.

Not only does Roquette America aim to collaborate between customers, sales, marketing and application scientists, but the company works with other ingredient suppliers. For instance, the company continuously teams up with its neighbor FONA International, Inc., Geneva, IL, a flavor company. The relationship Roquette America developed with FONA International gives customers access to both companies’ expertise.

Beneo’s technology center is supported by not only the institute and labs in Tienen, Belgium, and Offstein, Germany, but also the Südzucker’s Central Research and Development Services, which enables the team to provide scientific and technological assistance in the fields of biotechnology, physical characteristics of applications and ingredients, process technology and analytics. The company also collaborates with equipment manufacturers, flavor companies and experts in emulsifiers and stabilizers.

Although Tate & Lyle will use its new innovation center as an opportunity to centralize its business structure, providing a space for collaboration is the main goal.

“Meeting our customers’ product development and innovation needs is at the very heart of our business,” said Javed Ahmed, Tate & Lyle’s CEO. “The new Commercial and Food Innovation Centre in Chicago will enable our scientists, marketing, sales and technical experts to collaborate more closely with our customers and to respond rapidly to their needs for innovative food ingredients and solutions.”         

Between DSM’s six application labs, including its newest located in New Jersey, DSM gives customers access to more than 100 application specialists and technical experts. Close collaboration between a local innovation center and customers as well as with DSM’s network of centers facilitates the creativity and breakthroughs in new product development.      

New and upgraded innovation centers provide space for bakers, snack manufacturers and suppliers to come together and invest in and cultivate the inventive spirit that drives the baking and snack industries.