Innovation, Culinary R&D Centers: Where We Work
Prepared Foods visits Sabra Dipping Company’s new Center of Excellence R&D and Innovation Center in Colonial Heights, Va.
Food professionals may not have the opportunity to visit Tulin Tuzel’s home. Yet, they can see Tuzel’s home away from home at Sabra Dipping Company LLC.
Tuzel is chief technology officer for Sabra and Obela Global, the refrigerated dip and spreads ventures (domestic, international) of PepsiCo and Israel’s Strauss Group. After building a state-of-the-art hummus processing plant in Colonial Heights, Va., in 2010, the partners broke ground in 2012 for an attached, 20,000-sq-ft Center of Excellence (COE) for R&D and culinary innovation. Sabra officially opened the facility last April; four months later, Tuzel hosted a visit from Prepared Foods.
Completed last April, Sabra’s 20,000-sq-ft Center of Excellence (COE) includes a complete pilot plant and packaging prototype studio. The COE, foreground, is attached to Sabra’s hummus plant in Colonial Heights, Va.
Innovation (Center) Insights
Prepared Foods: What would you recommend to any other food or beverage processor that’s considering a new R&D center in 2014?
Tulin Tuzel: It’s important to start with the vision of how the (product development) team will work together. Then, move to the functional capabilities required.
PF: What would you say about related R&D center equipment or technologies?
Tuzel: We are still building our pilot plant with new technology and on-line measurement systems. Some of our equipment suppliers have been eager to partner with us to build pilot-scale equipment with customized instrumentation. I think pilot plants are a great opportunity for process equipment suppliers to partner with manufacturers to develop unique applications.
PF: What do you like about the COE’s integrated audio-visual technologies?
Tuzel: Now, we video our chef demonstrating culinary insights and share that—from our kitchen—on a global scale with our people or customers. We also have capabilities to video and share product design insights (within Sabra) right after we meet with consumer groups.
A 30-year food R&D veteran, Tuzel joined Sabra in 2011. She says officials subsequently invited her to help develop the COE as a facility to drive “growth in the wholesome refrigerated dips and spreads category—around the world.” Of course, that sort of opportunity is rare during any R&D executive’s career. So now, when Tuzel has a chance to entertain visitors, it’s evident that she takes pride in this site that’s equally functional and comfortably familiar (homey, in fact).
Case in point: Tuzel insists that visitors enter through the COE’s main entrance, where there’s a small foyer with a plaque honoring Sabra founder Yehuda Pearl. Tuzel then leads visitors forward into an open “ideation room,” reminiscent of a family room (skylight overhead) with an artificial grass carpet and modern, woven fiber couches.
The ideation center serves as an engaging, creative space where employees and customers can meet, relax and discuss ideas. When facing the back wall (where there’s a video screen), Sabra’s Culinary Center is just to the right. This Culinary Center includes a product development kitchen, fully equipped consumer kitchen, bench-formulation space, consumer-testing and sensory areas. Not surprisingly, the product development area is wired with high-tech (but subtly placed) video cameras and monitors. The space also features a home-style dining room space and, in the center, there’s a custom, 12-ft-long kitchen table made of light walnut.
Filling out the facility—from the middle to the exterior walls—are offices, cubicles, a fully equipped pilot plant and a packaging “studio.” The building is home to Tuzel and 50 associates including Sabra’s corporate chef, product developers, principal scientist, technologists, packaging engineer, a process engineer, nutritionist, project engineer and even an agronomist.
Tuzel describes the facility not as a technical R&D center, but as a “studio for food innovation.” She says the space literally encourages its multi-disciplined team members to interact in product and technology development.
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“We built in the ability to start with ideation sessions and integrate consumer and product design insights early in the development process,” she says. “We also ‘designed in’ rapid prototyping capabilities from culinary and product formulation to packaging. Finally, we have a pilot plant to scale-up new products, and we even have extra processing space for ‘plug-and-play’ new technologies. Equally important, we have built-in technology (cameras, monitors) to stay connected with our customers, cross-functional teams, research partners and even international markets.”
Tuzel says the COE is functioning exactly as designed. She says Sabra already has created several “exciting” concepts and protocept products from COE ideation sessions with marketing and external partners. Sabra sales and COE researchers also have hosted customers (including a foodservice operator) to demonstrate internal innovation, as well as co-development capabilities.
“Our favorite spot is the ‘kitchen table,’” notes Tuzel. “It’s where we gather to discuss projects, taste products, interact with our consumers or meet customers. To the R&D team, this has become a symbol of why we all joined Sabra. It reminds us that we are here not only to develop wholesome and delicious dips and spreads, but to share the culinary cultures of the world through enjoyable food experiences.”