Cargill's Innovation Center combines culinary expertise with customer service.
Staying competitive in the protein business today isn’t easy – the industry is constantly changing. The way livestock is raised is changing. The way food is processed is changing. And, of course, the way consumers purchase, eat and experience food is forever changing. Keeping up with these changes while maintaining profitability is the challenge of every company in the meat industry – and Cargill is no exception.

Cargill Protein, also known as Cargill Meat Solutions, includes all of Cargill’s North American beef, turkey, foodservice and food distribution businesses. Headquartered in the agricultural heartland in Wichita, Kansas, the business serves foodservice operators, retailers and food manufacturers around the country. Catering to customer needs, while trying to maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace, the company built the Cargill Innovation Center in 2011. The 75,000-sq.-ft. facility houses more than 70 culinary experts, food scientists, microbiologists, labeling professionals and marketing experts, all working together to enhance Cargill’s protein product line through innovation and collaboration.

“The Cargill Innovation Center brought new capabilities to Cargill’s protein business that we did not previously possess – dedicating spaces and technology specifically designed to enable and inspire innovative solutions and collaboration across the research and development and culinary spaces to service the needs of our customers,” says Mike Martin, director of communications for Cargill Protein.

“The CIC’s capabilities include full-service research and development, professional chefs and culinary team and the innovation center allows our team to test new processes, develop new products, packaging and enables innovation, which is a big focus of Cargill Protein,” Martin says.

The CIC includes an 11,000-sq.-ft. US Dept. of Agriculture-inspected pilot plant. The processing facility was created to test equipment and processes for commercial meat plant applications. Equipment includes slicers, grinders, a smoker, fryer, ready-to-eat production area and tenderness testing area.

In addition, the CIC contains several food safety labs including a fully equipped pathogen lab for development, testing and validation of food safety interventions. The product analytical lab contains a microbiology area and chemistry lab as well as labs for consumer research and sensory testing. Focus groups and tasting panels can also be conducted at the facility for in-house or customer purposes.

The ingredients and seasoning room was created for R&D purposes. Food scientists can develop seasonings and ingredients for rubs, marinades and flavorings for customers. The shelf life testing area contains both walk-in and retail refrigeration units to simulate shelf life of post-production products as they move from meat processing environments to consumer, retail and foodservice refrigeration.

On the culinary side, there is both a retail and foodservice presentation room. The foodservice presentation room is a space designed to simulate a restaurant dining environment. It features a full line of foodservice cooking and production equipment, a demonstration cooking island as well as outdoor grilling capabilities and an adjoining patio. The retail presentation area comes equipped with consumer kitchen and display areas like those in supermarkets and convenience stores or in deli environments.

“Everyone working at the CIC has the same goals – helping customers and growing our company,” says Chef Stephen Giunta, director of culinary for Cargill Protein. “We’re all collaborators – culinary, scientists, marketers. We’re all focused on growth for the company.”