JACKSON, MICH. — If a baker visits the Dawn Innovation Studio in Jackson and isn’t inspired, chances are that person is actively avoiding it. After all, inspiration is part of the company’s vision statement: “Inspire bakery success every day.”
In this more than 30-year-old building that was once part of the headquarters — now located a few minutes away — the Innovation Studio underwent a massive renovation that was two years in the making. Open since April 2017, Dawn’s Innovation Studio is a place for customers to ideate, collaborate and create, all under Dawn’s mantra, “Providing the ingredients for life’s sweetest moments.”
The 11,000-square-foot facility was designed to function in stages — from concepting to development to scale-up — all in a space that functions with the versatility that this producer of a full line of bakery mixes, bases and concentrates is known for.
In the gathering areas of the studio, more than 1,700 square feet are dedicated to the ideation phase of product development … where the proverbial doodle on the napkin might take place. Only here, instead of on a napkin, customers can brainstorm in flexible spaces with comfortable seating and moveable partitions that double as white boards.
The open space also includes a large conference table and projector screens for more formal presentations revolving around consumer, product and market trends. The total area can fit 60 people or more for customer meetings or internal events.
“We looked at everything from the words on the walls to the high ceilings to the colors,” said Keith Solsvig, senior director, channel marketing – artisanal. “It was all part of the design elements that we went through. In this space, we can easily start with small groups, work to larger groups and then move into the kitchen.”
During Baking & Snack’s visit, Dawn hosted Busch’s Fresh Food Market, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based regional supermarket chain with a commissary located in nearby Clinton. After Dawn presented research from its “Eight trends every baker should know” and discussed which specific trends were most applicable to the retailer, the group moved into the central kitchen for a presentation of finished products based on those trends — and ones that could garner higher price points without much extra investment.
Among the most popular was a S’mores cake made from Dawn’s Baker’s Request White Cake Mix, Exceptional White and Chocolate Buttercreme Style Icings and Chocolate Fondant Donut Icing, along with graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate chips. But the biggest interest was in an alcohol-infused layer cake that was topped with a mini bottle of the same alcohol. This sparked a long conversation about product development, liquor laws and innovative marketing strategies.
During these types of sessions, Dawn collects written feedback on the products and, in some cases, can turn around the next iteration overnight.
Between the concept and development areas, a small meeting space looks into the kitchen or out toward the conference area. It is equipped with sound-absorbing walls that double as tack boards.
For visitors ready to take products to the next level, the studio has a processing area to scale up the prototypes. The space includes rack and rotating deck ovens, proofers, steam kettles, analytic test equipment and various styles of packaging equipment.
But perhaps the greatest benefit for Dawn’s customers is how the Innovation Studio expedites ideation.
“These meetings lead to accelerated prototyping for not only when customers are onsite but also when they’re ready to bring a new product, idea or innovation to market,” said Katie Kaul, senior manager, global corporate communications, who noted that a development process that once could take several months can now be executed in a matter of weeks.
“Our mission, and essentially our vision, for the Innovation Studio was to make it a key component for us to be a collaborative, indispensable partner for our customers and really drive that inspiration, not only for products but also for insights on trends,” Ms. Kaul said.
The studio has a full team onsite, including food scientists, application chefs and packaging engineers.
“That allows us to have the resources to focus on Dawn products across our multiple business units,” Ms. Kaul explained. “We can innovate on both our customers’ products and our own.”
Customers who have taken advantage of the Innovation Studio range from local independent retail bakers to commercial manufacturers. Meetings in the Innovation Studio can be set up through a Dawn local or regional sales representative and usually require about four weeks’ notice for preparations.