The supplier of bakery, patisserie and chocolate ingredients has owned the site at Fingford in Oxfordshire – an 11th century water mill – since 1984. But as the décor and equipment dated from 25 years ago until now it has been used mainly for internal R&D work.
Since been kitted out with granite, stainless steel and the latest kit to bring it up to modern factory standards, the centre has flung open its doors to visiting customers.
Rupert Taylor, marketing director for Puratos UK, told FoodNavigator.com that it is much more beneficial to work side by side with customers on new product development. Not only can they “taste, poke and prod” the recipes together, but the short deadlines often required by UK retailers – sometimes by the end of the week – means it is imperative to have a local facility.
In addition, it is important to have local skills and knowledge of the UK bakery market.
Taylor said that the biggest difference between bakery in the UK and other European countries is that all the major retailers have in-store bakeries where loaves are made from scratch. Elsewhere, bread tends to be bought in or is baked-off from frozen.
All countries and cultures also have their own particular baked goods, and the likes of crumpets, pikelets, scones and steamed puddings are unlikely to be encountered elsewhere in Europe.
In parallel with the local focus, Puratos does leverage the benefits of being a global company. If a customer project requires, it can call on experts in the US or Asia to provide guidance.
The main innovation centre near Brussels, Belgium, can be reached from the UK in a couple of hours, and Puratos’ does sometimes take customers there (or to its bread flavour centre or chocolate facility – to work on specific projects.
One of the icons of Puratos has been the company’s Sensobus – a modified double-decker London bus kitted out with tasting booths. The bus has recently been retired and is now being replaced by a lorry that will take to road to capture consumer feedback.
“We know the power of sensory data,” said Taylor, adding that the company rarely uses external knowledge suppliers.
In the UK, all the team members at Puratos are professional tasters, “able to taste to the nth degree”, but analysis of other attributes, such as crunch and texture, tends to take place in the fixed sensory lab in Brussels.