The William Keith Kellogg Institute (WKKI) for Food and Nutrition Research, Kellogg’s 150,000-sq.-ft. pilot plant and R&D facility, has been translating product concepts into high-quality packaged foods since its creation in 1997.
The facility includes a 9,000-sq.-ft. process lab where ideas are tested by food scientists and staff and contract chefs. “It’s an industrial-strength kitchen,” says Chris Keller, operations manager for the pilot plant. It features small-scale equipment and 3,000 to 4,000 ingredients at any given time.
“We may need 30 or 40 different vanilla flavors alone for different hues, flavors and forms,” notes Keller, noting that the company tests an average of 150 products per month in the pilot plant and 200 products per month in the test lab. About 70 to 80 percent are new products. Reformulations are similarly tested.
The facility teams all the brains needed to take a product from pure idea to satisfied consumer.
The pilot plant consists of mostly modular equipment approximating that used in Kellogg plants. Equipment can be configured and reconfigured for different manufacturing approaches and products.
Test lines include a cereal bar line for cold-formed product such as Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats. A “continuous coating” line simulates coating applications on products like Frosted Flakes. Extruded and puffed cereals are tested on both pilot-scale and full-scale extruders.
The plant acquired a cookie/cracker line with the consolidation of operations following the Keebler acquisition in 2001. “We had three weeks to unbolt the equipment in Elmhurst, bring it here, upgrade the controls and get the line up and running,” says Keller. “We have a ‘can-do’ group.”
Scale-up is critical. A rotary cooker for traditional cereal products may make about 25 lbs. of corn flakes in the process lab, then the product moves to 200- to 300-lb. batch production in the pilot plant in preparation to 2,000- to 3,000-lb. commercial batches in the plants.
A 200-foot APV oven simulates the long bake times of key products. “Some of our bakeries have even longer ovens,” says Keller. “We try to duplicate the line process as best we can.”
In addition to scale-up and test production, the pilot plant conducts cost-of-goods runs. “We make sure that any ingredient change to help reduce costs doesn’t impact the consumer’s experience – taste comes first,” says Keller.
The plant has its own receiving area and docks as well as a machine shop.
“We also test novel machinery here,” says Keller. “We look for every opportunity to add profitable value for our shareholders.”