AAK USA, a leading manufacturer of specialty vegetable fats and oils, officially opened its new innovation center last Thursday. 
Prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremonies, AAK USA President Terry Thomas told key customers, local dignitaries, industry press and AAK team members in attendance that the move “is reflective of our objective to be in constant motion when it comes to consumer finished products.” 
“AAKtion Lab allows us to fully execute our co-development approach and will be a huge benefit to AAK’s customer partners,” he added. “Customers can come to us with any of the bakery and chocolate and confectionery industry’s toughest formulation challenges, and our team of industry experts will work hand in hand with them to deliver value-adding solutions and forward-thinking innovation to create finished products that consumers will love.”
Anne Mette Olesen, chief marketing officer of parent company AAK AB and who helped Thomas with the ribbon-cutting, pointed out that “co-development is a real part of our DNA. And we’re seeing that in fats and oils there is much more functionality than in the past.”
The AAKtion Lab, which features two conference rooms, side-by-side application labs dedicated to confectionery and bakery product development, and  an analytical lab, took more than three years to complete. Although slowed by local zoning requirements involving housing the labs in an office building, Thomas persevered in constructing the facility where the company’s headquarters are located. 
The company is also in the throes of building two additional labs: a bakery application lab in Louisville, Ky., and a bakery dairy application lab in Richmond, Calif. Both should be completed sometime in the third quarter this year, and total investment for all three new facilities will exceed $5 million.
 “Today’s manufacturers are faced with some tough formulation challenges, such as converting from PHO [Partially Hydrogenated Oil] to non-PHO and addressing clean label concerns,” says James Jones, AAK v.p. of customer innovation. “AAKtion Lab will allow us to provide new solutions for customers and will primarily be used for the first three stages of our Co-Development process: exploration and ideation, solutions creation, and then testing in application.” 
Jones added that the lab “will also be used to organize practical courses and classes (AAK Academies) on bakery, chocolate/compound coatings and combination bakery/coatings and fillings. These academies will promote new product innovation and educate our customers.”
The new labs will enable the company to be “closer to our customers as well as take advantage of our size, making us more nimble and flexible,” Thomas concluded.