Editor’s Note: Archer Daniels Midland Company entered the flavors business in late 2014 when it acquired the US operations of WILD Flavors GmbH. Afterward, ADM created a WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients business unit. The following year, in 2015, officials announced plans to build a 15,700-sq.-ft. flavor innovation center in Cranbury, N.J. That operation was completed in spring 2016 to include a beverage bar dedicated to presentations, tastings and development; a dedicated lab for mint and oral care products; and state-of-the-art facilities, including a pilot plant, to enable the creative development of sweet and savory flavor creations for a wide range of other applications.

Last year saw ADM expand its building to add a 4,000-sq.-ft. culinary innovation center, which opened this summer. Prepared Foods Editor Bob Garrison attended an open house that included executive presentations and plant-based food presentations and samples involving ADM flavors and ingredients.

Here, Garrison talks with Marie Wright, WILD Flavors vice president and chief global flavorist.

Prepared Foods: In what ways has it helped ADM to have an innovation center in here in Cranbury?

Marie Wright: Our innovation and culinary centers enable us to collaborate at a deeper level. We can be active participants in our customer’s product development cycle by working alongside and providing a customized flavor or product concept. This process really helps shorten the product development timeline because we are able to achieve in a day or two what would normally take three to four weeks, if not longer. 

By working side-by-side and leveraging our extensive ingredient portfolio, we have virtually everything a developer needs for a wide range of applications to help them optimize their formulations as we do rapid development and refinement in real time. 

PF: Why was it important for ADM to enhance this site with a new culinary innovation space? What does it say about how today’s food and beverage development has evolved?

Wright Consumers are far more influenced by the culinary scene today than they were 10 to 15 years ago. They are sophisticated and crave authentic experiences and real food. They understand global tastes—either through actual experiences or through social media. 

Food culture is now part of everyone’s lives. Having a center where we’re able to showcase our ingredients in relevant foods and drinks that meet the needs of today’s consumer is a huge advantage for our customers. 

PF: In what ways will these new culinary facilities impact your day-to-day interactions and projects?

Wright: Our culinary center allows us to work with our customers directly by inviting them and developing products for their concepts side by side. There’s a whole different level of social interaction, transparency and trust that is developed when you’re working side-by-side. When we and our customers are in collaborative development process, feedback is instant and we can act quickly. 

PF: What have you learned about the collaboration between flavorist and chef to ensure that all the nuances of a culinary flavor comes through the entire R&D process? 

Wright: Throughout the development process, the chef’s role is not only to create a gold standard but they’re also working with us to develop different taste profiles, testing our flavors, bases and flavor systems to ensure we’re delivering on the targeted taste profile of the final product. 

Our chefs, flavorists, product developers and marketers are often working together throughout the entire process from beginning to end.  

PF: We’re certainly seeing the rise of plant-based foods and beverages. What new challenges do those types of products post for a flavorist? 

Wright: With plant-based foods and beverages, there are technological challenges with regards to taste and functionality that have to be addressed and there also are some taste nuances that aren’t necessarily widely-accepted among consumers equally in all markets. 

We want to ensure we’re masking any off notes and aren’t masking the things we want to taste. It’s with our understanding of the protein—and its profile—that we’re able to help deliver great-tasting foods and drinks consumers love. With ADM, you get the most neutral tasting proteins due to our understanding of flavors and the composition our protein ingredients. 

PF: Does the consumer focus on clean and simplified labels affect your approach or process?

Wright: Clean and simplified labels are making an impact. With ADM’s portfolio of plant-based ingredients, culinary capabilities and product development expertise, we can help developers create clean and clear label products that meet consumer demand for great taste and transparency. 

Further, we offer an extensive range of chef-inspired culinary flavor systems, which provide an authentic food experience and containing real foodstuffs. ADM’s ingredient portfolio also includes a vast array of nuts, seeds, ancient and heritage grains. All of these are real, clean and clear ingredients and, put simply, they’re also “food.”

PF: Where do you go for inspiration? 

Wright: Inspiration is derived from many forms, such as traveling, experiencing different tastes, going to street markets or visiting high-end restaurants. It’s about not being afraid to try new things and observing the trends and textures everywhere—including those in fashion, new designs in architecture and even new harmonies in music. All of these transitions impact food and taste. 

The root of our creative process is solving a consumer need. We understand that we live in dynamic world, and rapid development can often lead to a successful solution. As long as the consumer needs and perceptions guide our development, we will have intelligent development.