LOUISVILLE, KY. — To solidify its role as a co-development partner for its customers, AAK USA, Inc. opened its second Customer Innovation Center in Louisville earlier this year. The center supports its focus on bakery, dairy and chocolate/confectionery segments with a bakery lab, pilot plant and analytical lab.

“At the heart of our business is our customer development approach,” said Terry Thomas, president, AAK USA, during a press event for the new facility. “At AAK we believe that in a changing world, lasting business value is created through collaboration.”

This innovation center in Louisville, as well as the one in Edison, N.J., and a third opening in Richmond, Calif., later this year, exist to foster that collaboration with AAK’s customers.

The co-development process begins with ideation of product concepts and solutions, and in the Customer Innovation Centers, those ideas are developed and tested.

“That’s where the application centers specifically come into play, ensuring that functionality is right before they head into production,” Mr. Thomas explained.

Co-located with the company’s fats and oils manufacturing facility in Louisville, the center provides AAK with a second bakery application lab specifically for customers in the southeast and Midwest.

“The decision on where to locate our Customer Innovation Centers was based on proximity to markets and customers,” said Mark Becker, vice-president, sales and marketing. “With bakery being regional in nature, it made sense to serve local markets, hence three bakery labs will be commissioned.”

The bakery lab features capabilities to produce biscuits, cakes, cookies, fillings, icings, frozen dough, laminated products, pizza, flatbreads, pastries and yeast-raised dough.

“It enables us to give customers the opportunity to see application solutions in high-quality prototypes,” Mr. Becker said. “It really allows us to work hand-in-hand with our customers.”

In the pilot plant AAK creates functional value-added samples of its shortenings and oils for customer testing and development. The lab’s capabilities include pilot-scale votation and blend tanks among others.

“It’s about increasing customer support and decreasing the time to solution,” Mr. Becker said.

The analytical lab allows the company to test its fats and oils for new product development.

“It enables us to rapidly pinpoint the optimal inputs to meet the desired functionality, product attributes and label considerations,” Mr. Becker explained.

The analytical lab can bleach, filter, intersterify, hydrogenate, deodorize and more. It’s here that AAK tests the melt points, iodine values, free fatty acids and other characteristics of the fats and oils it develops.

At the center, bakers can take advantage of AAK’s Innovation Day. This is a day set aside for AAK’s customers to visit the center and have an ideation session with the company’s team on a specific topic. Before the actual day, AAK and the customer decide on the topic to explore, and the company prepares technical presentations. An ideation session may include sales, customer innovation specialists and marketing from AAK and the customer’s team. There can even be a hands-on component with all the center’s capabilities.

“AAK Innovation Day is part of our co-development support for our major customers,” Mr. Becker explained. “We use this day to prove our innovation commitment, to support our customer partners and generate new business opportunities.”

The Louisville innovation center is another feather in AAK’s innovation cap. With its current facilities and another to come, AAK demonstrates its commitment to supporting customer innovation and new product development.