BELOIT, WIS.— Often it takes a deep dive to plunge into an unknown ocean of new product opportunities. For bakers and snack producers, exploring the endless possibilities for innovation beneath the surface may also require them to navigate a sea of changes to their standard product development processes. For Kerry, engagement and discovery form the foundation for its Taste & Nutrition Discovery Center (TNDC), where chefs recently developed beer-based cupcakes, everything bagel-seasoned donuts and even crunchy brownie hummus bites to reflect the company’s comprehensive approach to creative concept thinking.

Located at Kerry’s U.S. headquarters in Beloit, the TNDC interactively delves into the food and beverage industry by combining consumer insights with food science and application expertise.

“This discovery is done by immersing our customers in current marketplace trends and enabling them to view the industry through the eyes of the consumer,” noted Jordan Miller, brand manager, Kerry Americas Region.

The 4,800-square-foot TNDC is comprised of an engagement room and discovery center where Kerry’s team of experts work to educate food companies, retailers and restaurant chains about the science of taste and nutrition. A typical 1- to 2-day ideation session starts with setting expectations followed by brainstorming. The engagement room features multiple touch-screen monitors, an ideation lounge and white tables and glass walls to jot down notes and sketch out thoughts that transform into ideas.

“It’s a great place for collaboration and to ideate around new concepts or extensions of current concepts,” said Courtney Schumacher, marketing specialist, bakery. “It’s a space to fully embrace that cross-functional team collaboration between our customers’ experts and our counterparts at Kerry.”

Kerry may bring in expertise from its global counterparts.

“We’ll reach out to our bakers in Asia and Europe and gather samples that are related or loosely related but might fit into a specific trend to spur further brainstorming,” said John Schmitz, research scientist, bakery research, development and applications.

In the discovery center, an interactive screen takes up an entire 30-foot surround wall to provide a backbone of research on overarching trends such as clean label, convenience and nutrition. Here, the dive is supported by reams of market data on baking and snack categories along with a wealth of custom-developed consumer insights categorized by specific ethnic groups, generations and other demographics.

“We have content built around several market categories as well as the consumer,” said Sian Cunningham, marketing insights analyst. “We want to make sure it’s a really tailored engagement, so our customers get the most out of their day.”

Kerry just completed a proprietary research project gauging 700 consumers’ understanding of clean label.

“The consumers — their attitudes, opinions, need states and how they identify themselves — are the basis of everything that we do,” Ms. Cunningham said. “What drives their preferences and behaviors?”

The TNDC also features a full plug-and-play kitchen where Kerry’s chefs create a best-in-class lunch to demonstrate menu concepts, sample product prototypes and taste flavor options using the company’s vast portfolio of baking and snack ingredients.

The agendas of sessions vary by customer from educational with market and consumer trends; to innovation sessions with an outcome of creating solid paper concepts.

For engagements culminating in the creation of paper concepts, Mr. Schmitz and the rest of the application team can ramp up the paper concepts into physical concepts in Kerry’s bakery lab. Afterward, Kerry can conduct follow-up sensory and consumer research to determine which concepts are most viable and will work best with customers’ brands.

“Everything is meant to be hands-on,” said Jessica Vogel, senior marketing manager, meals. “The sky’s the limit. Let’s take these ideas as far as we can and then find out what we can do, if not now, maybe a few years out.”

In the end, the key is to go beyond new product innovation to make a splash in the market.

“Discovery is all about shedding what you think you know about your consumers and finding out what’s actually driving their thoughts and perceptions,” Ms. Vogel said.