AAK has 15 customer innovation centers worldwide including four US-based sites where the company’s team of food scientists and product developers work hand-in-hand with customers to develop products across the CPG market.
“We evaluate the customers' critical attributes of flavor, texture, appearance, even a sound that impacts the customer’s organoleptic and even emotional eating experience,” said Jim Jones, Ph.D., VP of customer innovation at AAK.
The California facility has three dedicated labs addressing bakery, plant-based foods, and personal care production formulations.
“Our Richmond Customer Innovation Center investment offers an additional 2,000 square feet of co-development space and delivers on our commitment to providing our customer-partners coast-to-coast service and support.
"We accelerate innovation using AAK’s co-development approach, and our expansive team of fats and oils, bakery, dairy, plant-based foods and personal care experts, all coming together to create real-world formulation solutions,” said Octavio Diaz de Leon, president of AAK USA and AAK North Latin America.
AAK’s co-development process involves five phases:
- Ideate: AAK studies its customers' market and culture
- Create: AAK helps customers develop a prototype value-added solution
- Prove: the AAK team tests and proves the product concept in customer innovation centers
- Implement: Both AAK and its customers test out the product in a controlled market
- Launch: Ensure maximum consumer satisfaction and repeat purchase
Acceleration of plant-based dairy innovation
The plant-based foods market has reached a value of $4.5bn, growing 5x faster than total US retail food sales over the past year ended April 21, 2019, according to figures from The Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA). AAK has felt the demand for plant-based innovation first hand, according to Jones.
“The Richmond innovation center has been slammed with a 10-fold increase in co-development projects,” he noted.
At the company’s Richmond, California, facility is a lab dedicated to plant-based food and beverage solutions, which AAK began working on two years ago.
“There we focus on solutions which replace milk fat in a variety of consumer products including butter alternatives, cheese analogues, plant-based creamers, whipped toppings, plant-based yogurts and frozen desserts like ice cream,” said Jones.
“After we mix the ingredients, pasteurize them, and stabilize the system with homogenization, we have all the equipment necessary to make dairy products with vegetable fats in place of dairy fat.”
Jones mentioned how the company’s combined bakery and plant-based expertise has made vegan pizza an innovation sweet spot for its team of product developers.
“Pizza is in our plant-based innovation foods sweet spot,” Jones said. “With AAK’s deep knowledge of vegetable oils and fats, working in conjunction with other ingredients allows AAK's innovation team to develop an industry-first creamy plant-based cheese that can be sliced or shredded without crumbling.”
“The emotional response from this plant-based cheese has been amazing. The plant-based cheese industry was taken by surprise,” noted Jones.
AAK is also seeing strong traction in the market for its plant-based coffee creamer made from whole grain oat flour and an specialty oil blend, as well as a dairy-free frozen dessert prototype which mimics the texture and creamy mouthfeel of conventional ice cream.
“Fats and oils are a critical component of flavor and functionality systems for many products, especially plant-based foods. We continue to improve our portfolio of customer prototypes and solutions in close collaboration with our customers. Not only do we help them with their own ideas, we also bring our customer-partners new product ideas,” Jones added.