A look inside Nestlé's new R&D center

by Monica Watrous
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SOLON, OHIO — Inside Nestle’s new innovation hub in Solon, Ohio, researchers in white lab coats scooped macaroni and cheese into plastic trays, rolled balls of pizza dough, and inserted probes into microwavable meals. The 144,000-square-foot facility is dedicated to improving every aspect of Nestle’s frozen and chilled foods businesses, which include Hot Pockets sandwiches; Nestle Toll House cookies; Buitoni pasta; Jack’s, DiGiorno, California Pizza Kitchen and Tombstone pizzas; and Lean Cuisine and Stouffer’s entrees. The company’s $50 million investment in the research and development center underscores its commitment to the category, which has struggled in recent years amid changing consumer preferences.

To keep pace with current trends, Nestle recently unveiled a series of changes within its stable of frozen brands. In June, the company announced plans to remove artificial flavors and reduce sodium in its frozen pizza and snack products by the end of the year. More recently, Nestle revealed a reboot of the Lean Cuisine brand, with a new focus on chef-inspired, ethnic dishes rather than diet fare. Other new product introductions are gluten-free, high-protein or made with organic ingredients.

Initiatives under way at Nestle Research & Development Solon include reducing sodium and saturated fat, eliminating partially hydrogenated oils, incorporating more vegetables and improving the taste and texture of products. The center houses 120 chefs, consumer researchers, packaging specialists and designers, engineers and scientists.

Nestle executives and representatives of the city of Solon, Ohio, celebrated the grand opening of Nestle Research & Development Solon.

“We’re experiencing one of the most profound shifts in how people eat right now,” said Paul Grimwood, chairman and chief executive officer of Nestle USA. “I’m pleased that Nestle R.&D. Solon will enable us to better anticipate and provide consumers with the food choices they deserve and the quality they have come to expect from Nestle.”

 Grimwood, along with several other Nestle executives, spoke during the center’s grand opening on July 22.

“This is a big investment,”  Grimwood said, “but given the scale and size of business we have here in North America in a frozen and chilled capacity and through the rest of the world, this is an investment our markets, our factories (and) our consumers justify.”

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