This is one of three segments of Food Processing's December 2006 cover story on its "Processor of the Year," Kellogg Co. Read an overview of the processor; access the article on Kellogg's manufacturing operations.
"Innovative environment" describes the William Keith Kellogg Institute (WKKI) for Food and Nutrition Research. Opened in 1997 in downtown Battle Creek, Mich., the facility is Kellogg Co.'s think tank for food innovations.
For those who have been with the company for years, and there are many, WKKI reinforces that the company is a trendsetter. After all, it was Mr. Kellogg who developed the corn flake some 112 years ago and thereby created the category of dry breakfast cereal. For newcomers in R&D, it is often WKKI and the company's ongoing commitment to innovation that convinces them to join Kellogg.
No waffling on quality: Maggie Lewis (left) and Roger Dennis work on refining Eggo waffles in the San Jose, Calif., facility.
"It was the existence of WKKI that motivated me to join the company," says Margaret Bath, vice president of corporate research, quality and technology. "This facility is a recruitment tool that attracts the best of the best to join our team of innovators. It is strategically designed to fuel innovation, and innovators immediately realize the possibilities when they step into the facility.
"It's a 'land of opportunity,' " Bath continues. She emphasizes that now more than ever Kellogg is committed to aggressive innovation and product line diversity. "Innovation is embedded in our culture. Kellogg's has come a long way since the corn flake, and we are always looking at new technologies and new platforms.
"Something I always remind my staff is to expect some misses as part of the innovation process," she says. "Our focus on innovation means we are not afraid to fail. What is important is to leverage the learnings from misses and use them to hopefully produce more hits."
Kellogg's diversified R&D staff works together, building on each other's knowledge base. The staff is organized by either business unit (frozen foods, morning foods, snacks and specialty), or by geographic unit (Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America). "The key purpose for WKKI is to create cross-cultural teams to identify global growth opportunities and develop products that can be marketed in multiple regions instead of just one country," Bath says. "Trends develop at different paces around the world, and we want to be sure we are on track everywhere."
WKKI has five restaurant-quality kitchens, extensive research facilities and a large, flexible experimental production area. Its pilot plant for manufacturing test batches of new snacks and cereals is one-tenth the size of an actual manufacturing plant.
"In order to keep projects on track and ensure that we commercialize on time, at design and at costs, we have gatekeepers who work across all functions," says Bath. "Speed to market is important, but will never be the sole driver of innovation. We always build in time to do our homework - from the science to the consumer's voice. We won't compromise quality, and we always deliver against our and the consumer's expectations. We never forget that it is about delighting our customers with variety, convenience and great taste."
New and improved
Since its beginning, and even through line extensions and most acquisitions, Kellogg has been focused on breakfast. But the company made its first foray into the dinner hour this past summer with Kashi All-Natural Entrées. They extend the Kashi name beyond the breakfast table while still maintaining the brand's tagline: "Seven whole grains on a mission."
The new line is all about whole grains, high protein and fiber, as well as taste. The entrees combine large-cut, crisp vegetables, whole grains and generous portions of protein including chicken, shrimp and black beans. Consistent with Kashi's existing product offering, the new frozen entrées are all natural and minimally processed to provide a healthy, nutrient-packed, satisfying food experience.
Kashi launched six 10-oz. entrées in poultry, seafood and vegetarian varieties, including Lemon Rosemary Chicken, Chicken Pasta Pomodoro, Black Bean Mango, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Southwest Style Chicken and Lime Cilantro Shrimp. Chicken Pasta Pomodoro features seven whole grain penne pasta while the rest of the entrées include Kashi's original pilaf, a unique blend of seven whole grains plus sesame, which was the company's first retail product.
"We are a brand-building company, and after studying the natural foods consumer, it made lots of sense to extend the Kashi brand into whole grain meal solutions," says Margaret Bath, vice president of corporate research, quality and technology. "This, of course, was a whole new category for Kellogg, but we were able to leverage the R&D expertise from the frozen foods unit. Before any of the entrees entered the marketplace, we worked with the sensory department to make sure they were at parity or better than the competition."
The company in recent years has introduced an unprecedented number of marketplace successes. In 2006, three of the company's flagship products - Frosted Mini-Wheats, Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran - were made available in organic versions.
"We listen to consumers' needs and requests, but the one non-negotiable in our innovation is the food - it has to taste great and deliver against all expectations and hurdles," says Bath. "So for now, we're delivering against the consumer request with these three organic cereal offerings and several of our Kashi products."
Other 21st century Kellogg's cereal line extensions include All-Bran, which is now available in a new variety and form, All-Bran Yogurt Bites; Special K, which in addition to the flagship cereal, includes Fruit & Yogurt, Protein Plus, Red Berries and Vanilla Almond varieties; and Smart Start, which comes in two wellness formulations. Smart Start Healthy Heart is the first nationally available cold cereal that contains ingredients (oat bran and potassium) that can help lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also low in sodium. Smart Start Antioxidants is loaded with vitamin A (including beta carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc.
Kellogg has identified various global need-states, and these platforms are drivers of innovation. "Products for successful aging" includes heart health and digestive health; "products for shape management" is all about maintaining a healthful weight.
Both of these need-states play into the healthy, nutrient-dense food trend, to which Kellogg is highly committed. "We have a team responsible for developing foods where the focus is on nutritional content, performance and taste," says Bath.
Although Kellogg always has been involved in healthy foods, it became an aggressive player following its 2000 acquisition of Kashi, which the company runs as a wholly owned subsidiary based out of LaJolla, Calif. "Kashi leverages Kellogg's R&D capabilities and has become the ideal platform for the company to roll out 'on-the-edge' products, including the first-of-its kind Kashi Vive Probiotic Digestive Wellness Cereal," says Bath.
Kellogg offers a range of products designed for consumption between breakfast and dinner. "We are an on-the-go, snacking society, and these criteria are considered when developing new snack products," she says.
For example, toaster pastries, a category Kellogg is responsible for developing via its Pop-Tarts innovation, has experienced 26 consecutive years of growth. Nevertheless, the time was right to create a new version that added value for consumers. "We reformulated the recipe and tweaked the process and were able to design the more durable and backpack-friendly Go-Tarts," says Bath. "The consumer still gets to enjoy the same flavor and eating experience of original Pop-Tarts, but just in a more portable form."
What innovations are in the works at WKKI? "Well, of course I cannot answer that," responds Bath. "We know no limits, but we know the food is always first."