Heinz's new 100,000sq ft Global Innovation and Quality Center near Pittsburgh underlines how consumer demand for innovation is altering how food companies operate.
In formally opening the center this week, company chairman William R. Johnson pledged that Heinz would "dedicate almost $100 million to strategic innovation activities in North America alone over the next five years".
Such investment illustrates that even companies with instantly recognizable brand names and significant customer loyalty must invest and adapt to meet new consumer expectations.
Located in Marshall Township, north of Pittsburgh, the 100,000-square-foot facility is Heinz's global hub for research and development and home to more than 100 chefs, food technologists, researchers and package designers, plus experts in nutrition and quality assurance. The center provides technical direction, assistance and advice to Heinz business units worldwide.
"The Innovation and Quality Center you see today is testament to our resolve to utilize innovation to spur growth,"said Johnson. "Our global innovation teams are energized, like never before, with a strong focus on delivering new products, new packages, better nutrition, better taste and consumer value."
Prior to this, Heinz researchers and development teams were scattered in a number of 100-year-old buildings in the company's former complex on the Pittsburgh's North Shore. Heinz invested more than $13 million to create the new facility located on the Marconi Campus and began construction in November 2004.
Housed at the Heinz Global Innovation and Quality Center is its International Center for Excellence in Ketchup, Condiments & Sauces, a repository of technology and a knowledge base for tomatoes. A multi-national team operates out of key growing and processing regions worldwide and studies all facets of the tomato.
They are seeking an understanding of the anti-oxidant lycopene and its means to enhance health and well-being. Botanists and agronomists are developing proprietary tomato hybrids to bolster field yields, enhance color and flavor and to better withstand cooking and packing operations.
Ore-Ida potato products are another example of recent innovation. A team of packaging and food technologists created a breakthrough with the Extra Crispy line of fries, and then developed a process, package and a custom recipe that, when combined, made possible microwaveable Easy Fries.
Additionally, Heinz is taking creative products to the rapidly growing chilled market with new Ore-Ida mashed potatoes. The company is however keen to insist that innovation has always been a key component of the company.
"While today marks a significant milestone, it does not signal the start of Heinz's innovation and quality journey," said Johnson, who pointed out that Heinz was the first company to pack its products in clear glass, rather than the standard amber and green bottles in 1869.
Heinz hopes that the establishment of its consolidated Global Innovation and Quality Center will enable it to identify and exploit new untapped markets before its competitors. Other firms such as chewing gum giant Wrigley have adopted similar strategies; the Chicago-based firm recently unveiled its new Global Innovations Center with great fanfare.
The center, which has required $45 million of investment so far, is designed to enable Wrigley to diversify and meet the needs of future consumers as it vies to rival Hershey and Cadbury Schweppes in the wider confectionery arena.