IOI Loders Croklaan Americas on Sept. 4 opened its new Creative Studio Americas to serve its fats and oils customers, both local and global. The new 16,000-square-foot, two-story site represents an investment of more than $3 million in building and equipment.

“The Creative Studio is driven by customer need to develop products that can ‘wow’ the consumer,” says Bill Troy, chief operating officer of IOI Loders Croklaan Americas. “It is designed to help speed product development.”

Because customer and supplier can collaborate in person, back-and-forth communications take place rapidly, and ideas can turn into reality quickly.

“It can do a two-year job in one month,” he says.

Julian Veitch, group chief executive officer, added, “The Creative Studio is all about collaboration, and it works.”

Company managers see the Creative Studio as partnering on products from ideation and development through scale-up, production and out to the consumer.

“This building represents how quickly our market is shifting,” says Tim Surin, director of sales and marketing, North America. “The timing couldn’t be more perfect.”

The company positioned its trade show presence and advertising theme — “Create Your Next Big Idea” — with the opening of the Channahon studio.

“Our booth at the IFT Food Expo was full all the time with people,” Surin says. “The discussion was about innovation, not cost-cutting.”

He described the Channahon studio as “a very relaxed environment, with a thoughtful side and an action side.” The concept, he says, was to define product development objectives in the area managers designated as “generate” — the classroom and conference areas — with activity moving along into the “create” areas of the two studios.

“This is an artisanal, creative approach to a very scientific world,” he says.

The new building houses the Creative Studio on its first floor, with administrative offices on the second. The first floor consists of two spacious development labs — which the company designates as “studios” — connected by a shared, glass-walled analytical station looking out on both sides. The rest of the 8,000 square feet is taken up by a large classroom-style meeting room and two smaller, more intimate conference areas. It was designed with large windows overlooking a forested area on the southern shore of the Des Plaines river.

In the center’s two studios, the company installed lab and pilot-scale equipment. The bakery studio includes a dry mix blender, bench-top vertical mixers, an aerating mixer, a rack oven, a combination proofer and deck oven, cake donut depositors and a restaurant-size fryer. The confectionery studio contains a mix-blend-conch system, a tempering unit, a three-zone cooling tunnel, a panner-coater and ice cream freezers.

The studios can accommodate development of all production ranges from retail and in-store products to high-volume consumer packaged goods items.

Channahon’s Creative Studio is the third one created by parent company IOI Edible Oils, with the first located in The Netherlands and the second in Malaysia. Many aspects of the U.S. location carry forward design norms of these labs in room layout and work space alignment.

“The customer will have the benefit of the same approach here as in the Creative Studio sites in Europe and Asia,” Troy says. “In Europe, confectionery has the larger profile while in the US, bakery is bigger.”

Facility design follows Safe Quality Food (SQF) guidelines, explained Kevin Miller, marketing communications manager. All surfaces are food-grade, including the ceiling tiles, and the floor was laid with sanitation-friendly cove-moulding baseboards.

The new Creative Studio is located on-site of IOI Loders Croklaan Americas’ vegetable oil refining plant at Channahon, the largest such facility in the Northern Hemisphere. With an annual output of 1 billion lbs, it produces more than 150 different vegetable oils and blends.

“That innovation is our approach is clear in what we have accomplished with this plant,” Troy says. “The focus on trans-fat elimination has driven growth over the past few years.” Annual growth for this business ranges between 12% and 15%, he observed.

To help make the grand opening a special event, the company brought in Mindy Segal, proprietor of Hot Chocolate, a restaurant in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. She demonstrated glazed mini-donuts based on brioche dough and iced chocolate cakes, all made with IOI Loders Croklaan Americas shortenings and oils. Ms. Segal is a James Beard Award winner for pastry, and she announced plans to open a bakery in the near future.

With the opening of the Creative Studio, the company also plans to renovate its internally focused research and development laboratory, also on-site at Channahon.