Mondelez's whacky innovations

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Chocolate Cadbury

Experimental work has reinvented brands
Experimental work has reinvented brands
In the mysterious UK food science labs of Mondelēz International, something is stirring – aside from the latest centrifuge. Rod Addy investigates

Key points

You might think Formula 1 sports car racing has little to do with how frothy you like your cappuccino. Guess again.

These and other whacky interconnections are currently being explored by global food group Mondelz International, whose brands include Oreo cookies, Cadbury Dairy Milk and Kenco coffee.

As you read this article, somewhere in the world white-coated, safety-goggle-wearing lab heroes are sweating over microscopes to perfect the company’s latest innovation.

The firm doesn’t scrimp on investment in this area. In the past year, within its global research, development and quality (RD&Q) network of 11 labs, it's spent more than £16M ($27M) at its three UK sites, which employ 730 people.

Of these, one is a general food science centre on Reading University’s Whiteknights campus, another, at Banbury, Oxfordshire, targets coffee, and one, at Bournville, Birmingham, handles chocolate.

The Bournville hub sits alongside the Cadbury chocolate factory and, together with a pilot plant for experimental work, has helped reinvent the longstanding confectionery brand.

It’s the source of inspiration for ranges such as Marvellous Creations, which boasts inclusions such as jelly popping candy shells.

Stroll into the site and you are confronted with a Willy Wonka-style demonstration area, where beaming experts show parties of eager visitors how, for example, hollow (shell) chocolates are made.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Drawing on the talents of the 220 scientists, technologists and engineers there, Mondelēz developed its heat-resistant chocolate, capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 35°C without melting.

It can be transported and stored for longer periods than traditional versions, while maintaining taste and texture, boosting sales in hot countries.

The site also uses 3D food printer technology, which has caused such a buzz over the past year, with the press drawing parallels with Star Trek​ gadgetry.

Prototype products (Return to top)

Linked to factories and RD&Q centres internationally, this enables Mondelēz to develop models for prototype products, details of which can then be transmitted anywhere and reproduced in hours.

This has revolutionised new product development (NPD), says Sanjay Solanki, global R&D head of NPD and innovation. “A few years ago it took weeks before we got a moulded bar of chocolate to consumer testing. Now we can use 3D printing and do it overnight.”

It’s a far cry from when Quaker John Cadbury, founder of Cadbury, sold his first chocolate in 1824, when it was only consumed as a drink, never as a solid bar.

Speaking of drinks, Mondelēz’s coffee gurus can easily give the Bournville boffins a run for their money.

Employing 200 food scientists, compared with the chocolate centre’s 220, it’s where the company developed Millicano ground bean-style instant coffee last year, using soluble extraction and freeze-drying.

The facility extracts granules and powders at temperatures of up to 180°C. “As well as understanding aromas, we can capture flavours and add them back in,” ​says a Mondelēz spokesman.

“For freeze-dried coffee we use equipment called a Hoyer, which is also used in the ice cream industry, taking water away and freezing it until it’s dry.

“We can then transform these solid ice crystals directly into gas. Because we do so gently, without adding heat, we can return delicate aromas.”

Coffee (Return to top)

That’s how Mondelēz recreates the full roast and ground effect with Millicano, which in reality is only composed of 15% roast and ground coffee.

Together with spray-drying capabilities, the company could, in theory, combine powdered milk and coffee to make a two-in-one product similar to Nescafé Original Two In One. But it couldn’t possibly comment on any plans for that area.

The Banbury site includes a pilot plant for its Tassimo coffee machine capsules. “We’re thinking about iced coffees for our Tassimo brand,”​ adds Jan Strubel, category director, coffee and chocolate drinks, UK, Ireland and the Nordics.

Banbury’s experts liaise closely with Mondelēz staff at its Reading laboratories, which is where the link between Formula 1 aerodynamics and cappuccino froth comes in.

The dynamics associated with airflow around Formula 1 vehicles is apparently the same process that affects the water flow around coffee powder in Tassimo’s latest T-capsules. And it's controlling this flow that determines the foam on your cappuccino, or caramel macchiato for that matter.

Hence the importance of liaising with the brains behind racing car design. But that’s just one area of analysis for the bods at Reading, which incorporates RSSL, a division whose services can also be hired out by anyone in the food industry.

Three core areas (Return to top)

The site focuses on three core areas: biscuit ingredient research and carbohydrate chemistry, which embraces perfecting the bubbles in Cadbury Bubbly bars; analytical science, including measuring product behaviour, and consumer tasting work.

It’s here that Mondelēz’s heat-resistant chocolate was tested for its physical properties using a Stable Micro Systems temperature controlled oven and the latest textural analyser.

“The force required to bite the chocolate at 35°C has got to match that needed for conventional chocolate,”​ explains a spokesman.

Meanwhile, over at the microscopy lab, researchers test the properties of coffees produced by Tassimo capsules and do more clever things with foam.

“We need froth to last for the whole consumer experience,”​ says a spokesman. “If you look at coffee shop coffee, you can see superior performance ​[to that delivered at home]. We look at the microstructure to see why.”

The scientists use fluorescence to highlight and tweak the chemical compositions of different coffee varieties and map out the structure of bubbles, proteins and lipids in the drinks, he says.

So the next time you grab your caffeine fix from the coffee machine, spare a thought for the work that went into producing it, which was far from instant.

Listen to our exclusive podcast​ with Mondelēz’s chocolate head Bharat Puri to find out why he believes heat-resistant chocolate offers the company considerable potential for the future.

Bournville factory (Return to top)

Location: Bournville Place, Bournville Lane, Birmingham; B30 2LU

Site manager: Philip Thurston

Built: 1878

Number of lines: 17

Staff: 1,000 manufacturing employees

Working hours: Four daily shifts, 24 hours a day, 51 weeks a year

Annual capacity: 120,000t of finished goods, 95% of which is for the UK

Products: All UK Cadbury-branded confectionery lines, including Dairy Milk; Marvellous Creations; Bubbly; Caramel; Wispa and Crispello; plus seasonal ranges

The site’s investment initiative (Return to top)

The latest investment in the factory at Mondelēz’s Cadbury chocolate plant in Bournville has been in front-facing shelf-ready packaging equipment worth millions of pounds, installed over the past 18 months.

A retail-driven initiative, this capability allows the factory to produce cardboard boxes designed to present products upright, so shoppers can easily spot what they are.

The service enables retailers to replenish stock quickly and simply, making products constantly available and boosting sales.

Bagging machines producing bite-sized products in resealable packaging, catering for consumer demand for sharing bags, have been another recent introduction, keeping treats fresher for longer.

Bournville takes milk chocolate crumb from Mondelēz’s Marlbrook factory in Herefordshire, where it is made by processing milk, sugar and cocoa liquor. It is then blended with cocoa butter, refined and turned into milk chocolate for the full range of Cadbury brands.

“One refiner takes particles down to 300 microns, while another breaks it down to 25 microns,” ​says site manager Philip Thurston. “Then we feed it through an extruder and turn it into liquid chocolate, which usually takes about an hour.”

In addition to everyday brands, throughout the year the factory makes lines for seasons such as Christmas and Easter, which are then put into cold storage to help cope with demand peaks. “We’re always a season and a half ahead of ourselves,”​ says Thurston.

120g products with inclusions, such as the Marvellous Creations range, are made on a line that processes 2.8t an hour and has an annual capacity of 55,000t.

“Inclusions are mixed with chocolate in the plant,”​ says Thurston. “Then we shake the moulds to make sure air bubbles come out.”

The Bournville site also makes chocolate coatings for products such as Cadbury chocolate biscuits, manufacturing for which is currently outsourced to Hungary.

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