Breda, Netherlands-headquartered Lamb Weston/Meijer (LW/M) is in the early stages of building a Fries of the Future Innovation Center on the Van Wamelweg in Bergen op Zoom, where new frozen potato products will be developed and tested. The walls are expected to be up this summer, equipment will be installed by the beginning of next year and the operation should be running by April.
“The Innovation Center should be viewed as a very large test kitchen,” said Anton Godschalk (pictured above), who is instrumentally engaged in new product development at LW/M. “It’s the place where we will soon be able to experiment fully with new products and techniques which we may or may not apply in our factories.”
The company, a joint venture of Eagle, Idaho, USA-headquartered Lamb Weston and the Dutch company Meijer Frozen Foods that was formed in 1994, supplies fast food chains, restaurants, institutional foodservice customers and retail stores in more than 100 countries. In the Netherlands it operates potato processing plants in Bergen op Zoom, Kruiningen, Oosterbierum and Broekhuizenvorst. Employing approximately 1,500 people, LW/M also has factories in England and Austria, as well as sales offices in Dubai and Nigeria.
“For research and the development of new products we now use the DAB innovation center, which is the Delta Agrifood Business in the former sugar lab on Van Konijnenburgweg,” said Godschalk. “We are outgrowing our space there, and partly for that reason the company is now building its own innovation center opposite the Berg factory. But above all the reason for expansion is to increase and accelerate the power of innovation.”
This is where experiments with different potato varieties, cutting techniques, chip shapes and flavors will take place, with activities slowly scaling up from a few kilograms of fries at a time in the DAB to hundreds of kilograms at the new site.
“You’ll know much earlier in the process whether a new product or technique has a chance of success,” said Godschalk. “Like cylindrical chips, for example. The shape of such a product means less fat. Plus less of the potato is lost. In the past, we had to shut down and modify the entire factory for large-scale testing. That will no longer be necessary.”
The Innovation Center also offers opportunities to experiment with new, sustainable techniques, such as the electric pre-frying of chips.
“Our factories are still running on gas. We want to get rid of that eventually.” said Godschalk. “In a test environment, it’s much easier to find out what works and what doesn’t.”
That Lamb Weston/Meijer chose the Bergen op Zoom location for this work is no coincidence. “Here, in the region where the potato grows, we also want the knowledge to stay,” said Godschalk. “An innovation center offers plenty of jobs at various job levels, from cleaners, process operators and product developers to researchers.”