EDISON, N.J. — AAK USA Inc. on Nov. 12 opened a customer innovation center in Richmond, Calif., that features three laboratories and houses the 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 customer innovation, plant-based foods for AAK USA. “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, where team members created a cheese alternative that shreds and slices without crumbling. Other projects include butter, creamer, yogurt and frozen dessert analogs.

The bakery lab allows AAK to test and experiment with new and current products and bring prototypes straight to customers. Specialists use shortenings, hardstocks, frying oils, margarines, cubed shortenings and flaked shortenings to create a range of baked foods.

The personal care lab focuses on skin care, hair care and color cosmetics.

“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.”