“We’re in the gazinta business, but we offer much more,” said Anthony DeLio, SVP and Chief Innovation Officer at Ingredion. “Our model is to use innovation to collaborate with our customers to create solutions, not just supply ingredients.”
The company, itself made up of a merger of two different cultures and business models, makes ingredients for the food, beverage, pharmaceutical and other industries. It uses four major and 21 satellite Idea Labs around the world to focus and scale its core innovation capabilities on every aspect of the food prep and consumption experiences. The coordinated approach began 18 months ago with a handful of monthly customer visits to its lead center in Bridgewater, NJ, which now hosts customers almost everyday.
“They’re places for true co-creation, where clients can match their development goals with our scientists and customer insights.”
The process is a far cry from the days when the primary objectives of the food industry were to preserve products and make them safe. Texture is the new flavor, according to Ingredion’s research, since it contributes significantly to both taste and satisfaction. Aroma is becoming a new aspect of food design quality, too, whether it’s the first whiff of an essential ingredient, or the enticing smell hovering over a completed dish.
The company has focused its global resources on a deep understanding of such factors, linking the science with specific experiential outcomes. It dissected creamy into 10 descriptors for one client, allowing it to fine tune its manufacturing. For another client, its research chefs helped deconstruct taste and enabled it to swap-in non-GM ingredients.
“We’ve globalized our offering, so we not only share science and sourcing expertise across markets and applications, but bring new insights to the table,” DeLio said, noting that it has helped more than one multinational client see that local trends in one region were also popular in another region, or more widespread than they’d realized.
Another outcome of the company’s innovation approach is its impact on processes. In one instance, a client challenged it to reduce the time spent making an Asian-style product, which involved velveting, a time-consuming process that delivers a soft sensation on the palate. Ingredion’s culinary experts came up with a solution that reduced production time from seven steps to three, and enabled the customer to go from concept to launch in less than six months.
The Idea Labs also focus on characterizing the physical changes that occur in processing. They have developed one-of-a-kind robotic equipment to measure multiple aspects of texture, and also have pilot plans that mimic their customer’s production facilities.
All this leads to faster development times and products solutions tailored for each customer.
“The food industry is changing.”
“There used to be this ‘secret sauce’ mentality where customers were reluctant to share critical information about their formulations and processes,” DeLio commented. “We are now seeing a far greater willingness to co-create.”
“Our customer’s ultimate goal is to build their brands. The Ingredion Idea Labs are places where we bring the latest insights along with novel solutions to meet all these challenges, and optimize the consumer experience.
[This essay first appeared on February 22, 2016]