AAK USA Inc, Edison, N.J., said it opened its newest customer innovation center in Richmond, Calif. The center will support co-development work with multiple industry segment-focused labs and houses AAK’s U.S. Center of Excellence for Plant-Based Foods.

“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.”

AAK said its Richmond-based customer innovation center is staffed with an expansive team of product development experts who have a deep understanding of the many roles that fats and oils play in a customer’s formula and in their process, labels and value chains. This team utilizes the same or similar equipment a customer would use, enabling AAK to provide hands-on co-development to tackle issues with formulas, ingredient statements, nutrition, processes and products.  

“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, AAK USA. “We test AAK solutions and prove them in our customer’s products, ensuring functionality before plant trials and production.”

According to AAK, the Richmond facility features three customer innovation laboratories, including a bakery lab, a dairy and plant-based foods lab and a personal care lab. The dairy and plant-based foods lab includes all of the equipment necessary to develop dairy products using vegetable fats in place of dairy fat.

AAK said its deep knowledge of vegetable oil and fats working in conjunction with other ingredients enabled its innovation team to develop an industry first: creamy plant-based cheese that can be sliced or shredded without crumbling. This breakthrough was made possible with the new lab where AAK focuses on solutions that replace milk fat in a variety of consumer products, including butter alternatives, cheese analogs, plant-based creamers, whipped toppings, plant-based yogurt alternatives and frozen desserts. In addition to developing tasty dairy products with vegetable fat in place of dairy fat, prototypes in this lab provide improved nutritional profiles (such as no cholesterol), made with sustainable ingredients that are better for the planet.

“Now that Richmond is fully operational, we are hosting a series of ‘Innovation Days’ to inspire West Coast customer-partners with a range of new concepts and ideas,” said Tom Welsch, regional sales manager, AAK USA. “We create these highly customized events to aid specific customer needs and accelerate speed-to-market of innovative new products, product improvements and cost savings for our West Coast customer-partners.”