22/06/2023 – ADM / Nutrition / Innovation / Manchester / UK
New frontiers in formulation: Inside ADM’s UK innovation hub
Providing a window into its vast world of novel ingredients and systems, global food and nutrition giant ADM has unveiled a new UK innovation centre. Food & Beverage Networker’s Editor, Sarah Pursey, is given a tour of this special site where science, art, nature and culinary expertise converge.
Spanning 800 square metres and boasting a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen and sleek chef’s theatre, alongside a number of specialist labs for both savoury and sweet flavour formulation development, ADM’s new Customer Creation and Innovation Centre (CCIC) in Manchester is one of the global food and nutrition leader’s most recent and interesting UK investments. With a strong focus on collaboration, the new facility is designed to support manufacturers in bringing future-forward offerings that align with the ever-evolving requirements of today’s discerning consumers.
Ranking 38th in the 2022 Fortune 500 list, with global revenues of almost US$102bn in the 12 months up to 31 March 2023, ADM today boasts nine major production sites across the UK, including the country’s largest combined crop processing facility (an oilseed complex in Erith), and an ultra-modern probiotic facility (its Protexin site in Somerset). It also operates the UK’s second largest flour milling business, and is one of its biggest grain merchants. “This highlights our many touch-points across the food, agriculture and nutrition segments – from the traditional legacy agricultural commodity businesses, through to much more consumer-focused activities,” notes Alistair Cross, ADM’s Country Manager (UK) and head of one of the firm’s operating units ADM UK Milling. And ADM’s new Innovation Centre in Manchester has been designed to provide a hub for collaboration and creation across all such business units, as the leading nutrition company looks to strengthen connections and introduce both new and existing customers to its expansive portfolio of novel ingredients, flavours and systems.
Here, Food & Beverage Networker takes a deep dive into ADM’s innovation-led activities – encompassing a wide reaching presentation featuring discussions with key executives on the firm’s trail-blazing advancements in health and wellness and plant-based proteins, alongside the reasons for establishing the new site in Manchester, and the importance of applying a cultural lens to culinary creations. We take an exclusive tour around ADM’s beverage lab, and also explore the Centre’s new lab-space for developing savoury flavours. The trip culminates in a tasting session at the brand new chef’s theatre, where we’re treated to a gastronomic journey incorporating a cornucopia of ADM’s industry leading innovations.
Making waves in health and wellbeing
With ‘Health & Wellbeing’ outlined as one of ADM’s key pillars for growth, the firm has in recent years turbo-charged its investments in natural, science-based supplements for both human health and animal health and nutrition – not least since acquiring the Protexin business (home to ADM’s market leading BioKult brand) in 2018. Alongside realising a number of acquisitions and JVs across the world, earlier this year ADM also launched a state-of-the-art US$30m production facility in Valencia, Spain, to meet rising global demand for probiotics, post-biotics, and other health and wellbeing related products.
Moreover, ADM works with a number of talented partners in the health and wellbeing space, engaging with them in a journey of discovery and problem solving to usher forth future food and nutrition innovations. One such partner is Melissa Snover – founder and CEO of Remedy Health, a revolutionary personalised health tech company that specialises in 3D printing an assortment of wellness solutions, most notably gummy vitamins. “We first came across Nourished [Melissa’s personalised nutrition brand] as a customer – and we’ve since developed a solid partnership that really benefits both parties,” enthuses Alistair. “Our VC arm, ADM Ventures, is today a major investor in Remedy Health – and ADM’s science-backed ingredients have been incorporated into Nourished’s range of personalised vitamins and also its protein bars.”
The tie-up is a clear demonstration of how ADM’s collaboration with clients – precisely what ADM’s new innovation hub in Manchester is all about – has the potential to flourish into deeper partnerships. Indeed, based on science and creativity, the ADM-Nourished partnership is now pushing the fronteirs of a rapidly emerging and highly prospective segment (personalised nutrition) – one that’s projected to grow in value to over US$16bn by 2027.
The alt-protein alchemists
With health rising up the agenda for many consumers, interest in plant-based offerings has accordingly continued to expand in all directions. ADM is today one of the largest producers globally of plant-based proteins, and Alistair Cross advises that a key aspect of its global Innovation Centres is to develop further in the flourishing alternative protein space. “ADM’s three global priorities – ‘Health & Wellbeing’, ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Food Security’ – are three reasons why we’ve invested millions in developing alternative proteins,” he remarks, adding that alongside the new hub in Manchester, ADM boasts a larger global Innovation Centre for Alternative Proteins in Illinois, US – close to the firm’s headquarters.
When it comes to alt protein, ADM has been an industry trailblazer for over seven decades, as an early developer of texturised proteins and the veggie burger, and today is still pushing firmly at the frontiers of the segment, as exemplified by its current partnership with Air Protein – a pioneer in air-based nutritional protein that requires no agriculture or farmland.
“Over the years we’ve improved how accurately we can mimic real meat products,” notes Nate Schomers, Executive Research Chef at ADM, who heads up the firm’s culinary team across the EMEA region. “And with constant investment in people, products and processes, ADM has continued to make advancements in that respect – nutritionally, flavour-wise, and texture-wise.” The category has been blown wide open as a result, he advises. “While today only about two per cent of the market is actually vegan, that now opens up to over half of consumers when it comes to those who are interested in following a flexitarian diet.”
Chef Nate Schomers, ADM’s Executive Development Chef (EMEA), with Food & Beverage Networker’s Editor, Sarah Pursey.
Originally from the US and initially part of that country’s culinary team for ADM, Chef Nate has been based out of Berlin for the last five years, yet travels across the EMEA region doing demos and meeting clients to present the creative potential made possible by ADM’s ingredients. Boasting experts hailing from 12 different countries, Chef Nate’s culinary team is constantly experimenting to develop creations that inspire ADM’s customers and meet the expectations of an ever more discerning customer base worldwide. And when it comes to alt-protein, that always comes back to offering a more accurate mimic of well known and loved (animal-based) products, he says. “From a flavour standpoint, that could be a case of deciding whether to move into a grass-fed or corn-fed beef flavour – two very different things. Of course, there are certain expectations for certain markets – what a consumer considers a good tasting burger in Iowa is obviously different from what a consumer deems a good tasting burger in India, where they don’t even generally eat cows. Achieving what’s best for specific markets is what’s important to ADM. It’s why we’ve established development centres across the globe, and it’s why we hire the best people in the industry.”
So, what’s next in terms of the development of plant-based proteins? “It’s about getting better at texture, more accurate in flavour, and combining those while also improving nutrition overall,” Chef Nate responds. “And, as we move further into the 21st century, it’s about how we develop products that are approachable to customers in accordance with both food system and nutritional challenges across the world.”
A top region for technology and talent
Asked why Manchester was selected as location of the new Innovation Centre, Mark Millward – ADM’s Principal Flavourist and also Head of Technical in the UK – describes the site’s legacy as a satellite lab for Germany-headquartered Wild Flavors (a business ADM acquired in 2014), and how it was established to meet customer needs closer to the market. “We chose Manchester for a new flavour creation department partly because the north-west has always been seen as the food technology centre of the UK. Many universities in the region offer excellent courses in this field; the chemistry industry also basically started in the north-west due to the salt mining operations in Cheshire, which drove activity on the food processing side.” Some of ADM’s customers also have facilities in the city. “We’ve always had a strong pool of technology and talent to draw upon here – a point that’s become even more crucial as ADM looks to move further into the savoury side of things,” continues Mark.
More broadly, the company’s Principal Flavourist advises that ADM selected the UK for its latest creative hub as the country is seen as one of the most innovative and accepting markets. “The UK is second only to Japan in terms of the amount of new products launched – and that’s largely because it’s a massively multicultural society.” The nation’s unofficial title as ‘ready-meal capital of Europe’ supports this assertion, with UK supermarkets offering an enormous array of cuisines emanating from cultures across the globe. “As we push forward with plant-based nutrition, we see the UK as the market perhaps most ready to accept those new products and new flavours. The same goes for the beverage, dairy and confectionery categories,” he notes, adding that the UK’s leading move into natural flavours has also been an encouraging advancement in that regard.
Bringing a cultural lens to new creations
Chef Nate goes on to highlight the importance of “bringing a cultural lens” to the task of developing new culinary creations, and describes ADM’s focus on working with local developers to translate solutions into products that are more regionally aligned. “The genesis of the product would be at our base in Berlin, with the fine-tuning of flavours coming from the local team – bringing that cultural lens to the development of the product for that particular market,” he advises. “ADM really does an amazing job with regards to that process.”
By way of example, ADM’s Executive Development Chef shares with us the experience of developing a plant-based kebab for the Indian market – and discovering that the difference in heat and spice tolerance of Europeans versus Indians, while certainly anticipated by his team, was in reality far more pronounced than ever expected. Working from the Indian team’s ‘gold standard chef’s formula’, and building the spice arrangement using ADM ingredients in Berlin, followed by final tweaks from the team in India, Chef Nate and his colleagues were ultimately able to create a product that successfully aligned with India’s heat-loving consumer expectations. “It’s a great product – and we’ve since reformulated it, as people really like both the structure and the flavour,” he remarks. “Indian food is one of those cuisines that’s rising in popularity – across Central Europe, in particular,” he observes. “We also sent that product to the Middle East, where the spice arrangement used is different again, so it’s been reformulated once more into a version that will sell in that region.”
Chef Nate’s culinary team hails from France, the Netherlands, the UK, the Middle East, Peru, and elsewhere – all working together on products, and ever mindful that customer tastes differ from country to country. “Having such an international team and development centres of excellence across the globe – in Valencia, in Berlin, in Dubai, and now in Manchester – is really important to ADM,” he stresses.
A visit to ADM’s beverage lab
Food & Beverage Networker is taken on a tour of ADM’s new Customer Creation and Innovation Centre, including the facility’s fascinating Beverage Lab. It’s here where the flavourists experiment with ADM’s ever-expanding portfolio of flavours, harnessed from a wide selection of volatile chemicals created in nature. “A strawberry, for example, generates certain volatile chemicals in order to attract animals to consume the fruit and propagate its seeds,” informs ADM’s Principal Flavourist Mark Millward. “A lot of what we’re doing involves replicating those aromas and flavours, and finding ways of incorporating them into products to appeal to a variety of consumer preferences.”
Mark Millward, ADM’s Principal Flavourist, guides the creation of our ‘fantasy flavour’ beverage.
Under the guidance of ADM’s Principal Flavourist, we’re given the opportunity to create a ‘fantasy flavour’ energy drink. Starting from a base of natural, sweet-flavour-enhancing chemicals maltol and vanillin, Mark adds ethyl butyrate – the most common ‘fruity’ chemical (“something a plant will produce when it wants us to know that it’s ripe,” he tells us), followed by another ester often used in confectionery (with a slight banana scent). Thereafter, a floral note is added (one that’s also found in many perfumes), followed by a medicinal note (methyl salicylate) based on natural anti-inflammatory willow bark. “If you’re going to make a heath drink, then you usually want a bit of a medicinal note in there,” notes Mark (and this certainly does – the aroma is akin to a well-known antiseptic cream).
Building up the structure of the flavour, ADM’s Principal Flavourist then opts for some methyl cinnamate (“again, drawing a little on the medicinal side, but also providing that sweet cinnamon-like note”). Next, to create extra complexity, we’re invited to add something random from a spinning wheel of ingredients, which stops on …Lavender (“a very useful component,” informs Chris Poole, MD of the new Innovation Centre, “due to its inherent sweet and comforting note”).
The natural flavour formulation is then added to a sugar and acid base – the building blocks of most beverages. Caramel for colour and caffeine are added, before we’re invited to taste. The verdict? Remarkably (given all the random quantities of each chemical suggested by the non-experts), our fantasy beverage pretty closely resembles a very well known energy drink (the one that claims to give you wings). “It starts well, but the aftertaste is a bit queasy,” is another assessment of our concoction – and the Centre’s MD Chris Poole, an alcohol industry veteran, highlights the importance of ‘quaffability’ when formulating a new drink. “It’s why citrus does so well as a beverage flavour, as it naturally cleanses your palate ready for the next serving.”
Beyond such considerations, today’s consumers are invariably looking for ever-more sophisticated flavours and combinations, according to ADM’s Principal Flavourist Mark Millward. “Flavour blends are getting more complicated, and what we’re actually making is becoming more complex as well. While this ‘fantasy flavour’ contains only about six, in reality such a beverage could typically have upwards of 40 individual flavours and aromas in there – so when you taste it, it should be triggering many different responses.”
Chris Poole, MD of the new Customer Creation and Innovation Centre in Manchester.
Masters of savoury modulation
Thereafter, ADM’s Senior Flavourist for Savoury, Wafik Attia, gives us a tour of where the company develops its flavours to enhance plant-based proteins. “In the case of most culinary food, the aromatic chemicals are generated from the cooking process – and in this lab, we’re trying as much as possible to mimic the culinary experience you get from meat-based dishes,” Wafik tells us. “The level of creation here is therefore a little more complicated, in that we’re working with not only aromatic, but volatile, non-volatile and semi-volatile ingredients,” he continues, adding that these include amino acids, mineral acid, salt and sometimes also some herb and spice extracts – the building blocks to create flavours like ‘roasted chicken’, and even something as nuanced as ‘roasted chicken without the skin’, he tells us.
Wafik Attia, ADM’s Senior Flavourist for Savoury.
When it comes to savoury solutions, most of the flavour is put into an encapsulated system in order to resist the heat from cooking at the consumer end. “This requires a spray dryer, where the volatile flavour is encapsulated with some hydrocolloid and also starch to keep it in a stable state and ensure the flavour can be retained during the cooking process,” he informs.
One key aspect that differentiates ADM from other flavour houses is the company’s stronger core of ingredients and flavours, observes Wafik, who demonstrates this by presenting us with the various stages of development of a chicken nugget. “So, starting with extruded soya – one of ADM’s major ingredients – this is transformed after hydration and the addition of some emulsifier, into a chicken nugget format. We thereafter transform the flavour to create a very different experience,” he tells us. And indeed, from both a flavour and texture perspective it is practically identical to a tasty piece of chicken. “This is how at ADM we’ve moved very strongly into providing an integrated solution for the customer,” the Senior Flavourist adds.
ADM’s plant-based gastronomic showpiece
Moving on to the chef’s theatre – a bright and chic space to inspire clients – we are presented with ADM’s exquisite plant-based tasting menu. The culinary team start by serving up their amuse bouche, ‘the Ruculino’. It’s their signature drink, containing ADM’s ginger and lemon flavours, fresh arugula (rocket), sorbet, with a drizzle of olive oil to stir into the mix for mouthfeel, plus a candied black olive for garnish. A little savoury, a little sweet, with a hint of spice from the arugula, it’s a refreshing palate cleanser, and very moreish.
ADM’s team of development chefs are focused on finding unique ways to showcase the company’s vast array of product innovations, even down to small yet delightful details like a ‘magic towel’ to which the diner adds, via dropper, ADM’s unusual ‘black lime’ flavour. “Often what we’re doing as a flavour-house is to create the much-needed shortcut that industry demands,” notes Principal Flavourist Mark Millward. “We’ve recreated this flavour by using natural lime oil but also by capturing the essence of time-consuming reactions like fermentation, caramelisation and browning. In so doing, we can help our customers incorporate this flavour into their products in a way that’s both time- and cost-effective.”
Next, we are presented with a plant-based ‘cod’ Wellington – fish being one of the fastest parts of the meat analogue business right now. Development of this involved Chef Nate and fellow teammate Chef Phillip cooking a lot of fish in myriad different ways in order to land on the true texture and flavour. “Fishy flavour is not actually a good flavour for fish, and typically indicates it’s ‘off’ – instead, you want that ocean freshness and a little brininess in there,” Nate advises. And with ADM’s Edgeflex protein technology – combining texture, binding and flavour technology – the fish analogue certainly nails this. It’s elevated by ADM’s lemon flavour, combined with spinach and mushrooms (and crucially, the protein remains really juicy despite being encased in puff pastry). The flavours are further enhanced by a delicious cucumber foam accompaniment (containing an ADM emulsifier that provides stability for at least an hour).
A salmon variation of ADM’s fish analogue – achieved with a tweak to the protein’s flavour and colour – has proved particularly popular in Germany, we’re told. “The beauty of Edgeflex technology is that it can be purchased in a kit for different protein blends, or ADM’s innovation team can work with clients to develop their own proprietary blend if, for example, they want a different colour, flavour, or seasoning,” advises Chef Nate. “We see that a lot, working from country to country.”
Next to be plated up is a juicy, plant-based, ‘lamb’ kebab – again, created using ADM’s Edgeflex system. To balance the bold kebab flavour, it’s served with grilled watermelon, some houmous (containing a little fried onion to pair nicely with the ‘lamb’) – plus pomegranate in honey for sweetness and sharpness, alongside a pistachio mint pesto. “A colleague from the Middle East came to Berlin to work with us on this. It’s a really cool dish with a lot of interesting and authentic flavours designed to inspire our customers,” ADM’s Executive Chef remarks.
Moving on from meat analogues, ADM’s enormous offer is demonstrated by the dessert that Chef Nate’s team dishes up next: A vegan muffin (using the firm’s chocolate prep and Arcon F soy protein concentrate) with timut pepper icing, accompanied by a pecan-flavoured oat-based frozen dessert (made with ADM’s oat drink sweet powder and pecan flavouring), alongside a raspberry foam. “With certain ingredients, scarcity and high cost create a barrier to their use in many products and dishes, as is the case with timut pepper – one of the most expensive ingredients in the world,” advises the Executive Development Chef. Yet ADM has successfully replicated not only the flavour of this unique ingredient, but also the tingly mouthfeel (which is something akin to Szechuan pepper), to add something very special to its icing.
After dessert, ADM’s culinary team offers up a final little palate cleanser – a Japanese-inspired non-alcoholic Yuzu Margarita, featuring a base of citrus juices with ADM’s yuzu flavour on top, plus other sweetening technologies in the background (including ADM’s agave syrup). Topped with freeze-dried raspberries and lime, and coming with its own little grapefruit ‘flavour bomb’, it’s a highly refreshing book-end to our culinary odyssey at ADM’s new facility. It’s also a fine example of how 'mocktails' have evolved, showcasing the potential today to make them very special indeed. “Coming originally from the alcohol industry, I can appreciate how non-alcoholic beverages are becoming frighteningly good right now,” agrees Chris Poole.
Science, art, nature and culinary expertise
Indeed, the ‘no-lo’ alcohol trend is positively flourishing – and accordingly, the flavour creations emerging all the time from ADM are moving into their own, adding complexity and intrigue to more virtuous beverage offerings. Likewise, as the F&B industry focuses on other health-related shifts like the challenge of bringing down consumption levels of sodium and sugar, ADM’s enormous global pantry of ingredients and solutions clearly has a key role to play in such progress. “The human palate has been getting used to higher and higher levels of both [sodium and sugar] in a process that’s taken place over decades,” observes Chris Poole. “What we’re trying to do as an industry is to just creep everybody back down again – and with that comes enhanced nutrition, but of course it takes time. Salt, sugar, and also fat, have historically been used because they’re easily available, in abundance and cost-effective. But as an industry we’re collectively moving away from that, which is a really good sign.”
Chef Phillip adds the finishing touches to a refreshing Yuzu Margarita mocktail.
It’s been fascinating to explore ADM’s new innovation centre and gain a deeper understanding of how the new Manchester facility will serve to gather together and enhance this leading nutrition company’s offering across the value chain. With ADM covering so many different areas and portfolios throughout the F&B space (around 3,000 products in total), there’s clearly a need for an innovative hub such as the new UK facility, where ADM chefs and scientists can work together with clients to develop creations that demonstrate just what’s possible in plant-based, dairy, beverages, confectionery and beyond – across all price-points and market segments. “The technology ADM is developing can be used across categories, and across the pricing spectrum and range. Different customers will have different asks, and each country or region will likewise have differing requirements, including from a socio-economic standpoint,” stresses Chef Nate. “We have to meet the needs of all through our solutions – a task that requires science, art, nature and culinary expertise all blended into one.”
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