Ingredients Insight: How are the Tate & Lyle innovation centres set up and what areas are your experts working in?

Luis Fernandez: Tate & Lyle is a leading global provider of ingredients and solutions to the food and beverage industry, and is focused on becoming one of the world’s most innovative providers of speciality food ingredients. We have invested in state-of-the-art innovation centres in the US and Europe, supported by a network of applications and technical service laboratories around the world.

Customers leverage these resources – from ideation to sensory testing to commercialisation – benefitting from nutritional studies and regulatory support to confidently bring food and beverage products to the market. Our innovation centres’ scientists work in two main areas: new ingredient development and applications.

As its name suggests, the new ingredient development team is responsible for new ingredients and molecules across our three platforms: sweeteners, texturants, and health and wellness. This group improves existing ingredients or develops new ideas.

The new ingredient development team might start from scratch working with an internal Tate & Lyle team, or they might partner with other organisations through open innovation.

The open innovation team has developed a network of around 2,500 contacts globally, including universities and research institutes looking to commercialise novel technology within the food ingredient space. Examples of ingredients Tate & Lyle has brought to market through open innovation partnerships include SODA-LO Salt Microspheres and SPLENDA sucralose.

The applications team is another group of scientists in our innovation centres that focuses on finished food or beverage solutions based on certain end categories including bakery, convenience, confectionery, dairy and beverages.

This team understands not only ingredients, but also production processes, and food and beverage formulations, while it evaluates finished products in terms of shelf-life stability, and sensory and overall quality as well. The core approach of the applications team is to create, optimise, rebalance and enrich. This means the team might work to:

  • create something completely new for a customer
  • optimise existing customer product formulations to reduce cost
  • rebalance the food to deliver the same sensory qualities of an original product while reducing calories, fat, sodium and sugar
  • enrich a product with dietary fibre.

What are some of the new concepts being produced at the centre?

We innovate from the perspective of new ingredients and new applications in a given category.

Some of the ingredients we are focused on include our recently launched TASTEVA stevia sweetener and SODA-LO Salt Microspheres. TASTEVA is our zero-calorie sweetener that achieves 50% or more sugar reduction while still maintaining 100% great taste in our customers’ products, even at high usage levels.

Developed through a proprietary process, TASTEVA is the optimal steviol glycoside composition, delivering a cleaner sweet taste profile. This means no bitter or liquorice aftertastes like many other stevia sweeteners on the market. Tate & Lyle’s SODA-LO Salt Microspheres are a salt-reduction ingredient that tastes and functions like salt. It delivers that salt taste but cuts sodium levels in many foods by up to 50%.

"We produce snacks with starches and fibres from our portfolio to get the texture and crispiness right while also being gluten-free and high-fibre."

The applications team brings new food or beverages to market. It might be a new yogurt that is tasty, and offers added fibre and a more stable shelf life, or it might be baked snacks. Baked snacks are something we are very proud of at our facility in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, US, which opened in June 2012.

We produce snacks with starches and fibres from our portfolio, such as PROMITOR Soluble Gluco Fibre, to get the texture and crispiness right while also being gluten-free and high-fibre. SPLENDA sucralose, a product we introduced many years ago, continues to be applied in new food and beverage solutions through our SPLENDA sucralose plus programme. Working side by side with our customers, we take concepts for this high-intensity sweetener from the lab to the market very quickly.

What are the key development trends and opportunities for Tate & Lyle moving forward?

We are always doing research to identify and understand the key trends being driven by consumers so that we are able to fully understand our customers’ needs. Major consumer trends globally continue to be health, wellness, convenience and clean label.

What are the unique features and equipment at the centres?

We have three innovation centres serving our global or regional customers. They are located in the US and Europe. Tastes differ by country, so we also have regional application centres that tailor solutions to meet local taste preferences and work closely with customers. All are fully connected to deliver the best results, bringing solutions to market faster using the right centre for the right need.

Our Hoffman Estates global commercial and food innovation centre and our European facility in Lille, France, have state-of-the-art equipment to develop customer solutions.

The fact that our sales, applications and new product development teams are all located at Hoffman Estates also allows integration that enable us to bring ingredients to market more quickly for our customers.

Finally, there is our facility in Lubeck, Germany. Another fully equipped centre, it has a large applications team focused on food systems. This involves the combination of our own ingredients and those sourced from outside Tate & Lyle into ‘blends’ for our customers.

The value we provide is delivered through the development of new category applications and functionalities. Innovation can be the result of entirely new ingredients, or a unique combination of ingredients from Tate & Lyle or external sources. Recipe know-how and knowledge, and helping customers reformulate quickly are key differentiators in this part of the market.

What makes an innovation centre good?

A good innovation centre requires two pillars: infrastructure and people. To work in today’s sophisticated world of food science, we need to invest in pilot plant equipment, culinary lab material, and sensory and analytical tools.

Even more important is recruiting and developing the right people with the right capabilities: those with excellent knowledge and experience, and who are open-minded, collaborative and effective communicators. This must all be part of the equation to provide the great results we deliver to our customers.