Puratos has opened an innovation center in Chicago, the company’s sixth innovation center in the U.S.

The Belgian bakery, patisserie and chocolate ingredients company occupies roughly 6,700 sq. ft. at 924 W. 19th Place in Pilsen, a neighborhood with strong Latino influences on Chicago’s west side.

Andy Brimacombe, president of Puratos USA, Pennsauken, NJ, said it was “long overdue” for the company to have a presence in the food hub of Chicago, particularly in culturally rich neighborhood such as Pilsen. 

“It’s really a trend-driving neighborhood,” he said. “We’re seeing the fusion of interesting artists, local chefs and cuisine, and new restaurants coming into the area. We’re an innovation company, so it’s just great to be in a neighborhood that’s thriving and teeming with innovation.”

In addition to office, reception and meeting spaces, Puratos’ innovation center features a 1,600-sq.-ft. bakery area and a 725-sq.-ft. patisserie and chocolate area. Each application area is outfitted with air and humidity control, as well as state-of-the-art equipment.

The baking area features Koma retarders and proofers, Miwe rack and deck ovens, Rondo semi-automatic sheeting equipment, spiral mixers, and a baguette molder, a divider/rounder and bread slicer from Esmach.

The patisserie and chocolate area has a Koma blast freezer, a Selmi continuous tempering machine, Traulsen refrigeration appliances and marble tables for hand tempering.

Steve Krizman, the innovation center’s supervisor, noted it took about a year to finish construction and get the equipment installed and operational. He hopes the space will encourage Puratos’ customers to think outside the box during innovation sessions.

“We try to push the envelope,” he said. “We want to stimulate their minds.”

Puratos customers got a first look at the company’s capabilities during a grand opening celebration Oct. 22. The celebration included facility tours, house-made desserts and chocolates, and product demonstrations of tempering and moulding white chocolate by hand, bread baking and the company’s patented steamed doughnuts.

Guest chefs Andy Chlebana, author of “The Advance Art of Baking and Pastry”; Uzma Sharif, owner of Pilsen-based Chocolat; and Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of The French Pastry School in Chicago, also made appearances.

In a pre-celebration interview, Brimacombe said providing a space for customers to work undisturbed with their colleagues and the Puratos team is invaluable in speeding up the R&D cycle and delivering trend-setting products to market.

“We want to make our customers successful,” he said. “We hope they’ll be able to work with us to develop products which are going to make a significant change and improvement in their business and respond to the consumer needs that they’re trying to address.”

Customers will also have access to trend insights gleaned from Puratos’ Taste of Tomorrow bakery, patisserie and chocolate survey, conducted in 40 countries with 17,000 consumers. 

“We believe the marriage of having those trends and the deep understanding of the consumers with the capability of the innovation centers to be able to execute really makes a huge difference for our customers,” Brimacombe said.