In today’s highly competitive snack and bakery market, collaboration between ingredient and equipment supplies and their customers continues to grow more common.

In 2012, Tate & Lyle established a Commercial and Food Innovation Center in Hoffman Estates, IL, just minutes northwest of Chicago and O’Hare International Airport.

The 110,000-sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility is designed to facilitate customer collaboration from “idea-to-plate” at a significantly accelerated delivery to market.

The Commercial and Food Innovation Center is also the North American headquarters of Tate & Lyle’s Specialty Food Ingredients division.

The facility, run by teams of scientists, chefs, marketers and product managers, helps snack and bakery producers bring products to market faster via the significant range of its technical capabilities. The center includes advanced food science research and processing laboratories, applications and technical services laboratories, a culinary demonstration kitchen, consumer insight and sensory testing facilities, pilot plant and prototype manufacturing facilities, and extensive global communications capabilities.

During a recent tour of the Commercial and Food Innovation Center, Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery learned more about its sensory, pilot plant, laboratory and other capabilities.

Tate & Lyle can run trained sensory panels at its Commercial and Food Innovation Center, as well as focus groups. Video conferencing and smart board capabilities open new levels of collaboration to develop consumer insights vital to early stages of new product development.

Culinary-focused team members help bridge the gap between food science and other product development professionals through ongoing maintenance of culinary gold-standard controls.

In the Dry Lab, otherwise known as “The Bakery,” team members like Sarah Scholl, bakery team lead, applications, test and run prototypes on its custom-built, automated R-Tech line suited to production of baked goods like crackers and cookies, but also snacks like chips. It has capabilities for laminating dough, and operates an in-line oven with multi-zone control. When necessary, the team can pull in a larger RONDO sheeter as dictated by project requirements.

Scholl notes that the R-Tech line is the center of activity in the room, and in fact, the room was built in order to accommodate the features of the line.

Part of the bakery team’s role is to demonstrate the performance of various types of ingredients in the same application. For instance, Scholl pointed toward a recent trial of the two different types of starch in the same dough to produce either crunchy and slightly crumbly results, or light and crispy results, exemplifying the notion that one ingredient shift can produce a notable difference in the finished product. In this manner, the bakery team employs a systematic approach toward testing new ingredients in real-world bakery applications.

In the Wet Lab, team members test the capabilities and performance characteristics of ingredients in applications like sauces, dressings, fillings, ice cream, beverages and more. Equipment options include a high-shear mixer, jacketed mixer, colloid mill, carbonator-filler, freezer, UHT pasteurizer, GEO homogenizer, jet cooker, retort machine and more.

Andy Hoffman, director, wellness, explained how other labs at the Commercial and Food Innovation Center enable an extensive range of core research competencies and analytical capabilities related to development of sweeteners, texturants and other ingredients, including many with a health-and-wellness focus.

In the Microbiology Lab, in-house development of enzymes and fermentation products yields the best strains for peak efficiency in food matrixes and brings more self-sufficiency to the process, eliminating the need to rely on outside suppliers of enzymes.

In the Applications Lab, Tate & Lyle scientists test ingredient interactions to rationally combine various company ingredients in statistical models to find existing synergies and potential product-development challenges. Meanwhile, separations work is completed in the Liquid Chromatography Lab. Its sequential simulated moving bed (SSMB) chromatography enables continuous analysis of a process. In the Dry Applications Lab, scientists work with agglomeration, spray-drying tests and similar processes. Its “particle design” work helps yield ingredients that contribute ideal texture to foods, as well as making them easy to use in the processing plant.

A core ingredient area for Tate & Lyle is sweeteners, and the company performs ongoing work into isolating the desirable characteristics of sweeteners, including natural options like stevia and monk fruit, so they work to their best effect in specific food applications. Due to this high level of expertise, Tate & Lyle is ideally suited to helping snack and bakery companies deal with issues related to the new “added sugars” declarations on the Nutrition Facts panel.

Team members perform storage and shelf-life studies in the on-side Environmental Testing Room, analyzing the chemical structure and impacts related to various storage conditions so they can “look into the future” to help ensure top product quality and safety for Tate & Lyle customers.

The Commercial and Food Innovation Center is a comprehensive facility that helps position Tate & Lyle as a highly strategic partner in the product development process for leading companies across the snack and bakery industry—and everywhere else across food today.