AAK, a Swedish-Danish producer of vegetable oils and fats, is opening a three-story vegan innovation center.
The Plant-Based Foods Global Center of Excellence—located at AAK’s premises in Zaandijk, the Netherlands—will feature two pilot plants, an analytical laboratory, a customer experience kitchen, and a sensory suite. AAK has more than 140 years of experience working with vegetable oils and fats. It leverages this knowledge to help companies develop new products.
AAK launched its AkoPlanet™ platform last year to help companies meet the growing demand for plant-based food. For example, it worked with two Chinese dairy companies to develop a dairy-free cheese topping for pizzas. According to AAK, its platform can help create vegan meat with a realistic taste, texture, and “bite” at well.
“Investing in this Plant-based Foods Global Center of Excellence reaffirms our commitment to grow our presence in this dynamic and fast-paced category,” Johan Westman, President and CEO, AAK Group, said in a statement.
“Acting as a knowledge center for our plant-based activities, we will develop and showcase our plant-based innovations to support customers across the world.”
Plant-Based Innovation in the Netherlands
The center will be just outside of Amsterdam, one of the largest food and agribusiness economies in Europe. The location is in proximity to the Wageningen Food Valley, a region populated by international food companies and research institutes.
Industry giants Unilever and Upfield have both announced vegan innovation centers within the region. Wageningen University has a research lab dedicated to the development of plant-based meat. It received a grant from The Good Food Institute (GFI)— an international nonprofit dedicated to developing a sustainable food system—earlier this year.
Niall Sands, President of Plant-Based Foods at AAK, told LIVEKINDLY that AAK’s presence in the Netherlands is strategic.
“Considering The Netherlands is one of Europes largest Agri-food markets, there is already a large network of food manufacturers, peers in the food ingredient segment, as well as the knowledge and research within the Wageningen Food Valley,” he said.
He added: “This, together with the fact many plant-based companies are establishing themselves in The Netherlands has supported our decision to strategically locate this Centre of Excellence there, in addition to being one of Europe’s foremost transport hubs making it easily reachable from across the world for our customers.”
The long-term outlook for vegan food innovation is strong. An increasing interest in health and sustainability is driving sales across key markets as consumers adopt flexitarian diets.
Reports by GFI have revealed that the trillion-dollar-plus meat market is poised to fundamentally transform. U.S. plant-based food sales reached $5 billion in 2019. Alternative protein innovation is not only at an all-time high, but also attracting more investors than ever before. In the first quarter of 2020, it pulled in nearly $1 billion in investments.
According to AAK, the new vegan innovation center will be operational by the end of 2021.