An awesome journey inside the most important food R&D center in the world
For a foodtech professional or food engineer, could there be a better dream than visiting the most groundbreaking food R&D center in the world?
Probably not, and thanks to Gruppo Food I had this great opportunity.
Last July I crossed the threshold of food innovation sanctuary, the heartbeat of world nutrition, the Nestlé R&D in Lausanne.
THE MODERN CONSUMER PARADIGM
Today, the consumer's role is completely overturned, a consumer can no longer be considered simply as the end-user, a passive subject, the last step of the value chain, but rather someone participating, despite indirectly, to the business strategy. The consumers and the environment today do shape the market as per their tastes and needs, and the only way for the food industry to keep up with the times is through innovation and technology.
In this awesome journey inside the Nestlé R&D center, we will see how the Vevey behemoth spends the 1.5 billion allocated every year to research and development, showing a great resilience in adapting quickly to the new market needs.
SCIENCE KITCHENS AND PILOT PLANT: NOTHING IS LEFT UP WITH CHANCE
Walking through the center, undoubtedly one of the most astonishing things was watching food scientists back-to-back with the chefs in the “science kitchens,” the place where the food prototypes leave the scientific environment to reach the practical one for the first test on the field. In a foodtech environment, what better match than a food scientist and a chef? The theory becoming the practical, the mind merging with the soul, the brain embracing the palate, the grey matter getting married with the taste buds, isn’t it?
If the science kitchens are the proof that in Nestlé nothing is left up with chance, the pilot plant is not undone. Inside this small plant, every industrial process of the 400 factories around the world can be replicated on a small scale to verify, validate, and eventually modify it.
Obviously, developing and validating new products is great, but in the end, consumers have the final say. So, in this day and age, what does the market require? What are the most important food trends at present time?
Surely, more plant-based proteins, less sugar, salt and fat, and more sustainable packaging.
3 topics on whose Nestlé is working really hard.
PLANT-BASED PROTEINS: BEYOND MEAT... THERE IS MORE
Nestlé was one of the first food giants that understood and captured all the potentials of plant-based proteins, and it is still one of the companies most keen on this topic. From the acquisition of US plant-based protein company Sweet Earth in 2017 to the recent launch of Incredible and Awesome burgers, the recent story of Nestlé shows an outstanding activity in the field.
Talking about burgers, Nestlè products, compared to the competitors’, can rely on a shorter and cleaner label, beyond any doubt a key factor in today’s market.
But there is not just the meat.
Nestlé scientists even developed a tasting plant-based fresh cheese: a product that in a blind test would be hard to distinguish from “real cheese”. Studying the structure of cheese, the researchers have been able to replicate its main structure, what can be defined as a kind of skeleton, adding then just 4 ingredients to replicate aspect, texture, and taste: potatoes fiber, sunflower oil, pea protein, and lemon juice. That’s it, ça va sans dire.
And what about the “smurfs milk?” A milk obtained from the spirulina algae, blue colored, with a new and wonderful taste. The perfect drink for the new generation.
LESS IS BETTER: REDUCING SUGAR, SALT, AND FATS
Another Nestle's crusade is against the "white devil", sugar. Do you think that the first food company of the world would have simply switched white sugar with aspartame, stevia or sucralose? Obviously not, it's still a food tech matter.
Studying the behavior of cotton candy, Nestlé scientists realized that due to the higher volume, it melts quicker in the mouth, enhancing its sweetness. Using this principle, Nestlé’s researchers developed the “structured sugar,” a sugar that reduces use by 30% due to its structure.
About salt reduction, they’ve started studying how to increase the perception of salt on the palate with a reaction similar to the one of Maldon Salt.
Acidification, crystallization, and aeration are the words that better synthesize the three technologies developed by Nestlè for fat reduction. Exactly what happens during yogurt processing, acidification allows better protein and fat aggregation, reducing the fat content by 50%.
Through the crystallization of unsaturated fats, it is possible to overcome the low emulsifying properties of the same, reducing the use of saturated fats.
The aeration allows for the transformation of the fat molecules in microbubbles, which makes a 15% reduction in calorie intake possible.
THE NESTLÉ INSTITUTE OF PACKAGING
Plastic can be considered as one of the nemesis of the third millennium, and the priority of every company in the world, food and non-food, is using packaging with a reduced ecological footprint.
Nestlé stated its commitment by declaring that by 2025 all its packaging will be recyclable, reusable, or compostable.
To carry on this mission, it has been just inaugurated the “Institute of packaging science” that promotes 4 working areas:
- Simplification of packaging by removing compounds with limited recyclability.
- More use of recycled components to progressively reduce the footprint.
- Focus on alternative materials, such as paper, with a longstanding tradition as package material.
- Developing of new materials fully compostable or biodegradable such as polylactic acid, derived by lactic acid and the polyhydroxyalkanoates derived by sugar and lipids.
THE NEW PRODUCTS
All the aforementioned new technologies have obviously been applied in the development, reformulation, or rebranding of some Nestlé products.
In preparation for the launch of plant-based fresh cheese, Nestlé already launched the Incredible Burger for the European market while the American consumers can enjoy both the Awesome burger and the PB Triple Play: a kind if kit composed of patty, cheese, and bacon, all plant-based.
Milkybar Wowsomes is the first brand of bars with 30% less sugar, thanks to the structured sugar. Due to the new fat crystallization technology, the Pralinato Classico now has 30% less fat. The famous bar Yes is now wrapped in paper, completely recyclable.
Even iconic products like Nesquik have been hit by technology: the new Nesquik All Natural contains only 5 ingredients, has cane sugar instead of white sugar and it’s packed in paper, which substitutes the legendary yellow plastic box.
ACCELERATE THE INNOVATION: THE SWISS FOOD & NUTRITION VALLEY
This wonder is made possible, besides of course the internal team, thanks to a high-level open innovation ecosystem including universities, associations, and partners.
To this ecosystem belongs Henri, the Nestlé open innovation platform that launches periodical calls to source and select the best project solving issues related to daily life, sustainability, agriculture, community, and so on.
And soon this ecosystem will include another piece. In January 2020, the “Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley” will be launched with the aim to further attract talent, start-ups, and investment to the region.
Through strong partnerships and reliable endorsements, the initiative will bring its contribution in shaping the future of food and nutrition in different fields: from sustainable agriculture, food waste, and sustainable packaging to alternative proteins.
The future of food is now, the food of the future is served.
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