A three-year initiative came to fruition in Edison, N.J., last week when specialty fats and oil supplier AAK opened the doors to its AAKTION Lab, an innovation center located on-site at the company’s U.S. headquarters and designed to facilitate close collaboration with customers. The state-of-the-art facility features dedicated bakery and chocolate/confectionery labs as well as space for meeting with customers and conducting sensory evaluation.

It’s the first of three customer-centric innovation centers that Malmö, Sweden–based AAK plans to open in the U.S. market this year. A center focused on bakery product applications is under construction in Louisville, Ky., and another dedicated to bakery and dairy applications is slated for completion in Richmond, Calif., late in the third quarter.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony, AAK USA President Terry Thomas said that the decision to christen the new facility as the AAKTION Lab “reflected our objective to be in constant motion with our customers.” According to James S. Jones, AAK vice-president, customer innovation, the lab will provide an optimal setting for his team to focus on the company’s co-development process with customers, including exploration and ideation, solution creation, and application testing.

Guests at the AAKTION Lab opening festivities were treated to a variety of product prototypes that showcased AAK ingredients. The menu of treats created by AAK application specialists included chocolate croissants, shortbread cookies enrobed in a chocolatey compound coating, biscuits with butter and cinnamon flakes, brioche, and dark and milk chocolate bars. AAK’s ingredient portfolio includes multifunctional fats that are nonhydrogenated, contain no trans fats, and are low in saturated fat.

Company executives also briefed attendees on AAK’s sustainability and social responsibility initiatives, including a program that benefits thousands of women in West Africa who collect shea kernels, which are the source of an important confectionery ingredient. The program offers interest-free micro credits, training, and logistical support.

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