CSM’s new Innovation Centre (IC) is all about... well, innovation. But what issues will the bakery supplier be looking at when it comes to long-standing products, such as cookies, brownies and doughnuts and how they can be developed? "Everybody knows there are doughnut rings and ball doughnuts, and everybody knows they can be iced, and decorated and so on, but what else can you do? What else is possible? For example, what about different shapes or different sizes?" These are the sorts of issues CSM will be looking at, explains IC and development director Kerstin Schmidt.

BakeMark’s site in Bromborough, Wirral is home to one of four European Innovation Centres for CSM and will focus on frozen and bakery products, as well as acting as a communication gate to CSM’s four Innovation Centres in the USA. The firm is the largest supplier of bakery products worldwide and operates in markets throughout Europe, North America, South America and Asia.

Schmidt believes CSM has a certain strength from, and a focus on products associated with, the US. The centre will examine key accounts in retail chains and coffee bars, establishing any developments in those areas, before discussing what could be applicable first of all in the UK, then for roll-out in continental Europe. Schmidt says the business can easily reflect US trends - for example what developments have taken place with products such as brownies and doughnuts - and translate them for the European market. "There’s always a difference. We don’t want GM products here, for example, but legislation is simply different in other countries so we have a different ingredients base depending on location."

== International team ==

The 9,100sq ft Wirral site, officially opened on 30 October 2008, has created nine new jobs and will house an international team of specialists for cake, laminated and fried products. Made up of people from the Netherlands, Germany and Brazil, as well as the UK, the team will work on a programme based on customer and consumer insights, generated by the European Frozen and Bakery Marketing team. "It’s really an entry point," says Schmidt. "Any customer working with us on an idea may initially have contact with a local sales colleague, but this then opens up access to a global door." CSM’s other European centres are located in Bingen, Germany (bakery ingredients); Goes, the Netherlands (sweet ingredients); and Merskem, Belgium (bakery fats).

CSM takes its inspiration from across the globe - and much more from Europe now than in previous years. "Spain is a huge doughnut market, but they have quite different profiles and different flavours. For example, a fully enrobed chocolate doughnut is common over there, but you wouldn’t necessarily find it anywhere else," says Schmidt.

Baked goods such as muffins or cookies vary in popularity across the globe - for example, in areas like Continental Spain they are still quite a novelty, says Schmidt. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t sell; it’s about finding a recipe and a format that works for the UK. "We simply don’t work so generically any more. We used to work very individually - in one region, in one country." Now, for example, the company might look at a Spanish product which may not work in the UK in exactly the same format, but some features of it - the softness, the structure, the margarine - can be taken and used to create a product to better suit UK customers. "We have a better knowledge base now to create new products," she adds.

On a wider scale, the centre has been created to aid the formation of a truly global network and to generate a more long-term vision within the company. Schmidt, explains that it is all about creating a bit more time and space for the business to focus on certain areas in more depth. She is responsible for managing the overall innovation programme for frozen and bakery products, having previously worked at Unilever in the bakery division, before returning to the bakery unit at CSM in 2004, following CSM’s acquisition of BakeMark from Unilever in 2001.

"We want to separate the urgent from the important," she explains. "It’s about developing certain expertise that will enable us to create quicker product spin-offs in future - for example, by looking at what we really know about flour or what we should know about our frying media." The centres have been designed to enable the business to focus on whether there are any additional developments or benefits it can deliver to its customers and to the end consumer.

"Take frying as an example," says Schmidt. "We make doughnuts and ring doughnuts, but our fats innovation centre would do the analysis, research and background on what the components of the future are in frying media. We would discuss with them what our fields of application are, what strategic directions we want go in, and then discuss with them in detail about how can we get there, what ingredients we need and what processing steps we need to refine."

== Serious investment ==

The whole project on the Wirral required a couple of years investment from CSM, but the principal plans for the site, in terms of the building and the team, were pulled together in 2008. "The overall cost of the programme, including the other three European centres, will be around £10m," explains Schmidt.

"A key line of thinking in 2007 was, ’Do we want to put all our resources together and create one European centre, somewhere in the middle of Europe, or do we go for a decentralised approach?’ The idea was not to create an ivory tower where our experts could just entertain themselves," she jokes, "which is why we opted for decentralisation."

The UK centre forms part of the existing BakeMark site and involved a reasonable amount of renovation, as part of it was pre-viously a margarine lab. Schmidt explains that although the history of the company here is largely based on margarine expertise, it does not do any work with margarine at that particular site any more. In fact, the laboratory itself hadn’t actually been in use for anything for a while, so it was essentially gutted and then refurbished. Within the technical area, the firm took more of a 50/50 approach, whereby new pieces of equipment were added where needed.

Obviously the work at the innovation centre has only just begun, and Schmidt says the big launches will not be until 2009/2010, but the company believes it is at the start of a journey that will help create the next generation of products and improve the production of its existing ones.

In terms of the future, she believes, there is still a lot to explore in the bakery sector: as well as the question of innovation, there is the issue of where these products are sold. Whether it be in the retail sector, hotels, amusement parks, petrol stations or coffee bars, wherever you find bakery products, there is an opportunity, she says.