Strokes of Genius
By Dan Malovany
Puratos’ new Innovation Center helps the Belgium-based company partner with its customers to develop more healthful, better-tasting and higher quality sweets and baked goods for consumers across the globe.
No masterpiece was ever made with a single stroke of genius. Greats such as Michelangelo, Matisse, Picasso and Rembrandt spent months and even years researching and toiling over a timeless work of art that would be appreciated by generations to come.
When it comes to the art of baking, everyone has seen that elegant dessert that looks almost too good to eat — and tastes too good to be true. Lucky are those who experience warm, crusty Old World-style bread that is savored as if it were art. Developing such masterpieces is not an easy task, but who says it has to be done alone? Being a starving artist can be a terribly boring way to live a life … and a rotten way to make a living.
Sometimes a reliable partner in business can provide a burst of inspiration that transforms a good idea into a great one and moves it onto the fast track. That’s the theory, at least, behind Puratos’ latest Innovation Center, located at its headquarters in Groot-Bijgaarden just outside of Brussels, Belgium.
“This Innovation Center is a learning center, a place to create and to understand,” notes Georges Grignard, Puratos’ corporate identity and communications manager.
The $10 million facility, which opened in November last year, is one of 36 Innovation Centers Puratos operates across the world. Although it’s been open for just a short time, the Belgium center already attracts 300 to 500 visitors a week to develop new products, attend workshops, conduct research, receive training, experiment with new ingredients and exchange ideas for further developing their companies. In many incidences, the multipurpose center is about creating an environment for innovation by finding ways to help our customers extend their businesses.
“Everything is designed to facilitate dialogue in an effort to improve our products or create new ones,” Grignard says.
Typically, training varies from one day to a full week, adds Stéphane Van Cauwenbergh, Innovation Center manager. Customers can take a two-day class focused on baking and Puratos’ ingredients, another two-day class about pastries and Puratos’ PatisFrance fillings and bases, and a one-day class about confectionary and Puratos’ Belcolade chocolates. Other times, the emphases can be entirely on baking, if that’s the customer’s preference. The goal is to design programs around specific needs.
In addition to working with customers, the center attracts Puratos employees who can attend classes on a variety of topics because the center is a part of broader internal learning initiative that Grignard calls “Puratos University.”
“You may have marketing seminars on how to meet local consumer’s satisfaction, new products and solutions seminars presenting the latest Puratos innovations or a class on how to give a presentation,” he says.
Great Taste and Wellness
The concept for the latest Innovation Center began in 2004 when the company started exploring how it could further help its customers expand their business. Research notably showed that consumers across the world were looking for more healthful products without compromising on taste. It was a trend that was rapidly expanding and gaining momentum in the 100 countries Puratos serves.
“We asked ourselves what was the vision for the company, and we all agreed on some very broad ideas,” Grignard recalls. “We saw that people will attach more importance to the quality of food in the future. We found out that the way to evolve is to look at what consumers want in terms of quality and innovation in the different countries and to pass on these findings to our customers.”
Studies also showed that Puratos’ customers perceived the company as an innovator. Since it created the very first dough conditioner in 1953, followed by the development of the well-known S 500 improver in 1975, the ingredient supplier had been pushing the envelope when it came to developing new products. In fact, the company today gives out its Leonardo Award — named after Leonardo DaVinci — to those employees of the group who develop new products or solutions that become successful in the market.
“It’s like the Oscar of Puratos,” Grignard notes. “It proves that innovation succeeded in the market.”
From the outside, the Innovation Center slightly resembles the Pyramide du Louvre in Paris with the glass structure linking two existing brick buildings. The offices on the right of the center house the research and development and the quality assurance departments, or the scientific side of the business. On the left are the sales and marketing departments, or the commercial side of the company. Building the innovation center in the middle, Grignard explains, pulls together the seemingly divergent parts of the company to provide common ground for discussing innovation with our customers from different perspectives.
Grignard notes that the 21,000-sq. ft. Innovation Center is all about bridging the gap.
“We want it to look very modern” he says. “Even in a traditional business, you can always do something new.”
Upon entering the lobby, visitors can see a display of breads, rolls, desserts, croissants, cakes and confectionery products created that day. Right behind the display is bakery is a training area with visitors such as customers, teachers, student and technicians working on granite makeup tables to produce a cornucopia of baked goods. The demonstration area is large enough to welcome two groups of visitors — such as one producing O-tentic natural sourdough baguettes and another on chocolate handling — at once.
The bakery is kept at 77°F, is naturally lit with glass ceilings, and houses all the equipment needed to produce a variety of products. Bakers can use spiral mixers, sheeters, dividers, proofers, retarders and deck or rack ovens. There are storage bins for ingredients and for holding delicate dough such as laminated sheets, which need a temperature-sensitive environment or a long, slow fermentation time.
A second room behind the ovens and proofers provides training for pastry and cakes. Adjacent to that room is a stage and auditorium, which allows Puratos to teach or provide product handling demonstrations. On an upper floor between the two demonstration areas is an open room with chairs and tables where classes can hold question-and-answer sessions or evaluate the products they produce.
On the lower level, eight meeting rooms can hold more than 200 people for classes. All meeting rooms have removable walls to accommodate larger groups. The rooms also are used for lunch, when attendees sample baked goods and pastries that were made that day as well as a wholesome meal prepared in the on-premise top-class catering kitchen.
A Matter of Taste
The ground floor level also houses a research library and a museum, the latter of which holds bakery-related artifacts dating back hundreds of years. Puratos’ chairman personally collected most of these items over the last few decades, Grignard notes.
Across the hall from the library is the sensory analysis lab, where panels of expert taste testers rate the color, texture and flavor of products to determine the optimum formula.
Taste testers sit in white cubicles and eat off of white plates using white spoons. Simulated natural light highlights the appearance of the product.
“Everything is white because do not want them to be disturbed by anything else and to focus entirely on the product,” Grignard explains
Since late nineties, Puratos has explored the issue of taste and how to develop objective, analytical methods to determine which products taste better than others and why. The company met with experts across the world to develop questionnaires that break down all of the attributes involving taste, including everything from sweetness and texture to aroma, mouth-feel and where, for instance, a certain dessert has the right amount of chocolate in it.
Puratos then created its own comprehensive survey that provides testers with the vocabulary to express their taste preferences and a process that precisely evaluates a product’s attributes, says Bernard Salez, communications manager.
Take, for instance, an analysis of a croissant. A typical survey will ask if the inside is moist enough, if they like the glaze, if it’s crispy or flaky on the outside and if it has enough of a buttery flavor.
Prior to product launching, Puratos might partner with local consumer research firms to get feedback on new item.
Ramping Up Production
For wholesale bakers, the Belgian center also operates a pilot plant to simulate high-speed production on a variety of products. Located on the ground floor of the building that houses the sales and marketing departments, the plant houses deck ovens, rack ovens, horizontal mixers, spiral mixers, a laminator line, a doughnut fryer, coolers, retarders, proofers and freezers.
Often, Puratos will contract with specific equipment suppliers to bring in new systems and test-bake products on them. The company also has more than 120 technicians who travel 12 to 18 weeks a year training customers and working in their plants to assist them during the start up of a major new product line or to help them improve their manufacturing process with new ingredients.
Next year, the company plans to expand its research and educational capabilities by opening up a Bread Flavor Center near one of its 58 production facilities located in Sankt Vith, Belgium. There, the company wants to create new works of art for the bread and roll markets.
“Innovation is constantly needed because the lifestyle of products is shorter these days,” Grignard explains. “It’s sometimes so short that you need to constantly come up with new and improved versions of it. Puratos is organized around innovation.”
Editor’s Note: For more information about Puratos USA, visit www.puratos.us.
Center of Solutions
Wholesale bakers face a number of daily challenges in their bakeries. These can range from creating products with extended shelf lives to creating convenient frozen dough products that could bake-off even after six months of sitting in the freezer.
Some of Puratos’ most innovative products include its Acti-Fresh solutions, which improve the texture and increase the shelf life and freshness in cakes. This line helps cakes maintain their moist, fresh-baked taste up to three weeks after baking. At the same time, other ingredients of the Great Taste & Wellness range can reduce fat content without compromising taste.
For bread and roll producers, the company’s Sapore range of sourdoughs can enhance the taste of bakery products in a natural way. Sapore, by the way, is Italian for “taste.” Georges Grignard, Puratos corporate identity & communications manager, notes that the company offers sours ranging from Fidelio, a San Francisco-style sour made with L. sanfranciscensis culture, to Tosca PW 45, a typical Italian durum wheat sourdough made from finely ground, hard semolina.
“Since 1995, Puratos has focused on bread sours and aromas,” Grignard says. “We have access to different types of sours from all over the world.”
Within its Great Taste & Wellness program, the company also offers ingredients for creating cholesterol-lowering breads, reduced-fat croissants and no-sugar-added sweets.