EDISON, N.J. — AAK USA Inc. on Nov. 12 opened a customer innovation center in Richmond, Calif., that features three laboratories and houses AAK’s U.S. Center of Excellence for Plant-Based Foods. The three laboratories are a bakery lab, a dairy and plant-based foods lab, and a personal care lab.

“The addition of our Richmond innovation center allows AAK to bring specialty vegetable oil solutions to our West coast customers in a very collaborative way,” said James S. Jones, Ph.D., vice-president of customer innovation, plant-based foods for Edison-based AAK USA. “We test AAK solutions and prove them in our customers’ products, ensuring functionality before plant trials and production. Our experts evaluate the customer critical attributes of flavor, texture, appearance — and even sound — that impact the consumer’s organoleptic and emotional eating experience. Fats and oils are a critical component of flavor and functionality systems for many products, especially plant-based foods.”

Finding ways to use vegetable fats in place of dairy fat is a focus at the dairy and plant-based foods lab. AAK team members have created creamy, plant-based cheese alternatives that may be sliced or shredded without crumbling. Projects at the lab will involve a variety of consumer products, including butter alternatives, cheese analogs, plant-based creamers, whipped toppings, plant-based yogurt alternatives and frozen desserts like ice cream.

The bakery lab allows the AAK team to test and experiment with new and current products and bring prototypes straight to customers, expediting innovation and speed to market. AAK’s bakery specialists will use shortenings, hardstocks, frying oils, margarines, cubed shortenings and flaked shortenings to create a range of baked foods.

The personal care lab will involve work on skin care, hair care, color cosmetics and other personal care products. AAK has developed shea-based ingredients for the beauty industry.

“AAK has over 15 customer innovation centers worldwide and has opened multiple locations across the U.S. over the last several years,” said Octavio Diaz de Leon, president of AAK USA and AAK North Latin America. “Our Richmond customer innovation center investment offers an additional 2,000 square feet of co-development space and delivers on our commitment to providing our customer-partners coast-to-coast service and support.”