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 Fonterra Innovation Center Will Have Taste Lab  
By Owen Hembry

Fonterra will open its first Australian innovation center next month, including a sensory testing center where trained palates will help to shape the future of cheese and dairy.

The Melbourne center is based on practices at Fonterra's Palmerston North Research & Development Center and will employ about 40 food technologists focused mainly on consumer and food-service products.

The center will include a consumer sensory-testing facility, an applications kitchen, manufacturing pilot plant and support functions including laboratories and climate control rooms to simulate market conditions.

Discussion groups can be observed from behind a two-way mirror and in special booths consumers and sensory-trained subjects wait for potential new dairy delicacies to appear from behind a small hatch.

Lighting can be adjusted from red to white to eliminate bias from appearance and keep the human guinea pigs focused on taste and texture.

Brad Cook, Fonterra general manager of marketing and innovation for the Australia New Zealand division, said trained panelists were a bit like expert wine tasters, mapping the attributes of the food.

"Consumers tell us what attributes they're looking for. The trained panel then tell us if we're getting close."

Fonterra could conduct sensory tests internally for between 10 and 20 percent of the external cost, which could be about $48,500, Cook said.

Internal testing allowed Fonterra to go to the market more quickly and to hold on to all the intellectual property.

Product development work now done at external facilities would also in future be undertaken internally.

Fonterra's primarily brands-based Australia New Zealand division contributed external sales of $3.3 billion, or 16.9 percent, of group revenue for the 14 months ended July 31.

The growth plan included the prospect of developing "functional" beverages and snacks, with growth in products such as nutritional drinks.

Customer equipment such as pizza ovens could be installed at the center to recreate real-life conditions, while Fonterra could also simulate its own manufacturing environments without using up valuable factory time.

"We do all the initial testing in the innovation facility first and that's probably where the biggest investment area is ... it's in having that manufacturing pilot plant facility," Cook said.

But the center was only one tool. Another project sent staff from all departments to the homes of consumers to learn how they used products. "It's fair to say that we have a very full pipeline and there's going to be a lot of exciting stuff happening in the consumer world for us."

Source: The New Zealand Herald

Posted on Tuesday, March 31, 2009 (Archive on Tuesday, April 07, 2009)
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