EDISON, N.J. — AAK USA, Inc. opened its flagship innovation center, the AAKtion Lab, located in its U.S. headquarters at Edison, and celebrated the event with a tour of the new facility on March 2.
“When you work with food industry customers, you need someplace to work with them,” said Terry Thomas, president of AAK USA, as he welcomed key customers, local dignitaries and industry press. “This lab has been a dream of ours for years, one of many for the company. AAKtion Lab allows us to fully execute our co-development approach.”
AAK USA is part of AAK AB, Malmö, Sweden, one of the world’s leading producers of specialty vegetable fats and oils. It operates four manufacturing plants in the United States: Port Newark and Hillside, N.J.; Louisville, Ky.; and Richmond, Calif. The last was part of AAK’s 2016 acquisition of California Oils.
Mr. Thomas said two more AAKtion Lab locations are planned for the United States. The one already under construction at Louisville will focus on bakery projects. The next, set to open during the third quarter of 2017, will be at Richmond, Calif., and will concentrate on non-dairy uses plus bakery applications.
“We named these AAKtion Labs because we expect them to be in constant motion with our customers, to achieve lasting value for them,” Mr. Thomas said. They are intended to support the company’s co-development activities, which Mr. Thomas described as “part of our DNA.”
The company operates similar innovation centers around the world, 11 in all, with China and Brazil among the newest.
The new center comprises two specialized development labs — one for bakery, the other for confectionery — along with conference rooms, lockers and offices. AAK installed leading-edge, commercial-grade equipment to make the development process as close as possible to pilot-plant scale operations.
“Customers can come to us with any of the bakery and chocolate and confectionery industries’ toughest formulation challenges,” Mr. Thomas said. “And our team of industry experts will work hand-in-hand with them to deliver value-adding solutions and forward-thinking innovation to create finished products that consumers will love.”
Directed by the lab’s staff, the grand opening visitors participated hands-on in chocolate and compound coating processing, including cookie enrobing, and bakery preparation of flaky biscuits, shortbread cookies, brioche and pan de chocolate. These applications demonstrated a variety of AAK specialty fats: lamination fats, pliable shortenings, flavored flakes, margarines and non-tempered compound coatings.
“Today’s manufacturers are faced with some tough formulation challenges, such as converting from pho to non-pho and addressing clean label concerns,” said James Jones, Ph.D., vice-president, customer innovation. He heads the AAK USA innovation team. “AAKtion Lab will allow us to provide new solutions for customers and will be used for the first three stages of our co-development process: exploration and ideation; solutions creation; and then testing in application.
“’Co-developed’ is what defines AAK. The result is that we dramatically increase the success rate of the projects.”
Dr. Jones described two additional programs. One is the AAK Academy in which its experts work with customers to share knowledge and do hands-on training. The second, AAK Innovation Day, is a highly targeted program that brings customers to the innovation lab. They leave with full prototypes.
“We work in co-development to deliver a finished solution,” he added.
Mark Becker, vice-president of sales and marketing, briefed attendees about AAK’s sustainability program. It is a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and developed its own code of conduct and sustainable palm oil policy. Because AAK does not run its own palm plantations, it relies on the mills and other suppliers in its supply chain to conform to rigorous sustainability and traceability practices. Likewise, it works with the Global Shea Alliance and offers a pre-financing and micro-loan program for the women who gather the wild-grown shea nuts.AAK products are derived from renewable crops, with ingredients grown and sourced responsibly, the company said. It takes a multi-oil approach with raw materials ranging from canola, coconut, corn, cottonseed, high-erucic-acid rapeseed, high-oleic safflower, high-oleic sunflower, palm, palm kernel, shea, soybean and Non-GMO Project verified soy. It offers RSPC-certified materials.