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Article appeared in issue 3, 2021

Creative HQ

Therese O’Rourke is European Chief Technology Officer at Kerry’s Global Technology Innovation Centre. Located across 30 acres in Naas in Co. Kildare, the centre houses 20 collaboration spaces, 14 labs and six suites where it brings together Kerry’s taste and nutrition technologies and expertise. Here, Therese outlines some of the work taking place at, what she calls, the engine of the organisation.

We work with combined technologies from all across the world and work out how to apply it to different areas. For example, we may acquire a strain of probiotics in Canada that is used in pharmacy tablets and then we can use a whole suite of other technology and ways of working to bring that into different areas, such as an addition to your soft drink. We like to say that our Naas facility is where innovation meets enterprise.

I lead our Development and Applications (D&A) and our regulatory teams. The D&A team works with our customers to create the next innovative food, beverage or meat product; our regulatory team is charged with helping us to anticipate changes in the regulatory landscape. One of the areas that I lead is around customer innovation: taking our existing technologies – such as protein or taste/flavour – and combining them to help our customers evolve their end-product.

Our industry has really evolved in the past couple of years and its being driven by millennials and the younger generation who are looking for new experiences. They have a heightened awareness around how food and beverages are made, and of the organisations that make these products.

That consumer is demanding lots of different things. First and foremost, that the product tastes amazing. They are looking for the authentic, for the multi-sensorial. They want it to give them some physical benefit, to enhance their immunity or bulk up their muscle.

These consumers are increasingly curious around the origin of ingredients, that they are sourced close to where the product is made and consumed, so provenance is becoming more important. The product must look great when it's on a plate because it will go on social media. It needs to be cool enough that you want to be associated with that product. At the top of that staircase of demands is purpose and sustainability.

To meet these consumer needs, our customers are looking for partners to help them create products that taste great, are good for you, look great in a final build or final beverage and have really strong sustainability credentials.

A customer will ask us how they can evolve their food, their beverage, their meat product to meet the evolving needs of this consumer and our teams are involved right from the start, working with their marketing insights team and creating the first kind of ideations concept.

 

Our teams can replicate the manufacturing processes of our retail clients and ‘back of house’ processes of our food service customers on a pilot scale to make a beverage or make a burger.

 

Seeds of success

In a recent visit to our ‘meat’ lab, I was presented with what looked like hamburgers and chicken wings, rashers and chicken pieces. In reality, there was no meat in what was being presented to me, but it looked, it tasted, it felt like meat. The team had created the burger patty in the ‘full build’ so I can consume it in the way I would at McDonald's.

Everything that makes meat taste great is due to its animal origins: the succulence of a burger, the marbling of fat, the flavour of roast beef. Our teams have the technical depth to recreate that eating experience without the meat. They understand how to mimic that and bring it together with our plant-based protein using our masking capability.

One of the challenges in the plant-based area is these plant proteins don't taste very good, and consumers are looking for plant-based proteins that are allergen-free. Wheat is an allergen, as is soy and it brings with it environmental considerations around deforestation. Pea protein is good in terms of its nutritional profile, but it's quite challenging on taste. Our taste team works with the application team to create a blank canvas and then adds in the beefy note, the succulence, that umami, all the great stuff that we love about a burger.

 

Benefit in kind

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the interest and curiosity in foods with benefits. At Kerry, that's been a huge accelerator for our proactive health business, which encompasses some of our key immune-enhancing brands and digestive health enhancing brands like Wellmune® and Ganeden BC30™.

A leading global tea brand was looking for new innovative health and wellness solutions to put into their expanding range of functional teas. The concepts had to fit with global market trends using ingredients with science-backed research to offer them a strong consumer message that would help them win in this space.

The customer chose us as their key innovation partner to help them develop a tea that would support healthy digestion. Over a 12-month period, our technical teams worked together to develop a tea containing Kerry’s Ganeden BC30™, a probiotic that is scientifically proven to help support digestive health and the immune system. Tea was a new application for our ingredient and our technical teams worked together to come up with innovative ways to overcome challenges such as ensuring the probiotic could be retained within the teabag itself and to ensure it retained its stability when hot water was poured on the teabag! Our customer launched six new products across two markets with many more launches planned.

Our customers want partners who can help them get products to market fast and then replace them with the next bigger and better product, and that is what Kerry can offer them.

 

Hatching a plan

Like many organisations, one of our global customers, Bimbo, has a major focus on sustainability. The company has committed to using only eggs from cage-free birds. Those eggs are more expensive, so the challenge was becoming a purposeful company in a way that is economically viable. Through our scientific capability, we worked with Bimbo to reduce their usage of eggs. By using less, there's no net impact in the cost.

Egg plays a particular function in a product such as a doughnut: it’s a binding agent and it adds texture and we were charged with replicating that in a sustainable, clean label, low-cost way. Our enzyme team worked with our application team to reformulate the doughnut using a reduced level of egg, without compromising on that tasty spongy experience that we all love. It was a clean label solution, so they didn't need to declare anything different on the pack. Following this reformulation, Bimbo called us out as one of their core innovation partners globally.