Following the launch of the first Centre for Excellence (for Structured Emulsions) at Vlaardingen in the Netherlands last month, 14 May saw more than 200 global visitors attend a grand opening for the Centre of Excellence for Drinks at Colworth Science Park in Bedfordshire, UK. Further Centres of Excellence are to be opened shortly in Italy, Germany and Poland, each with its own area of expertise.
Giving the opening ceremony speech, Director Phil Evans said: “Our main mission at Unilever is ‘Adding vitality to life’. We’re all concerned with how we look and feel and want to live a healthier life and give our children a good start, too.
“There’s an unmistakable link between nutrition and health taking place in consumers’ minds right now, and we want to make this both convenient and affordable. Our expertise in plant materials – ie releasing the natural goodness from plants into drinks means that consumers can access nutritional foods in a very convenient format whether at home or on the go. There’s no better way of dosing yourself with a health benefit than through drinks.
“If you discount water, then 40% of fluid consumed globally is tea-based beverages, and Lipton is by far the largest tea brand in the world – by a factor of three. Among our brands, we can also list Adez, Knorr Vie, SlimFast Hungershots, Flora/Becel and Brooke Bondl.”
Advances in technology
Mr Evans continued: “In Europe, there were 40 centres of Research and Development – there will now be six in total to build critical mass and enhance capabilities through direct interaction. Here in the UK Centre of Excellence, we employ 90 people of 15 nationalities. It’s advances in technology which drives forward our plans.
“Our expertise is taking tea from the bush to the brand, and we reach back a long way and have moved forward into packaging expertise with many ready to drink teas in PET. We aim to bring the best science and technology into the supply chain. And while upholding the importance of safety and microbiology through our understanding of nutrition and ingredients, we’re able to differentiate from our competitors. We spend time understanding our consumers as ‘consumers taste with their eyes’, and so product colour and packaging, leaf size and appearance are all important.
“Our most recent move indicates our ambition to be environmentally and socially responsible, our strong links with Rainforest Alliance are a major first step. All our leaf teas on a global basis will come from sustainable sources – meaning the way we make, package and dispose of it are all under scrutiny.
“People are also important to us – we’re not just grafting old onto new but developing a new culture. We use our knowledge and know-how from our other centres and have made this move to ensure that we work globally and think globally and take calculated risks.
“We work with passion to deliver real consumer benefits. Mere lip service is no good. The great innovations are those that are also a business success and we can deliver these by linking consumer insight with technical insight.”
Centred on vitality
Vice President of Beverages, Didier Dallemagne, followed by saying: “We are all now used to terms such as catechins, theanine and flavonoids being applied to tea. Tea has a 5,000-year-old history and Lipton has a great future. We’re energised by the knowledge we have and frustrated by the choices on offer, as we cannot do all that we want to at once.
“It’s very impressive to see this centre through the eyes of those who come here, such as our colleagues in the Pepsi Lipton International JV. All our brands are centred on vitality, from shot drinks containing functional ingredients, and teas, fruits and vegetables with their inherent benefits. Our research and development is centred on and embedded in the brands, and we have developed ‘Benefit Ladders’ for Lipton.
“Four clear innovation platforms include magnifying inherent goodness, packaging development, making our products accessible to the mass market, and social and environmental responsibility.
“Our business results have been very good, with growth of 14% gross last year, of which 7% was for leaf tea alone.”
Emmo Meijer, head of global research and development, finished by saying: “Today is not about Colworth but about communicating our capabilities on a worldwide basis and supporting all our businesses around the world.”
The soy juice drink Adez is doing exceptionally well in South America, where people understand soy’s benefits better than anywhere else around the globe. Flavours, including red berries and mango passion fruit, are being added to with golden kiwi and guanabana. Lipton’s expertise has prevented the separation problems of early soy drinks, which had a chalky, grainy texture and improved the smooth and creamy mouthfeel of this functional drink. Full of calcium and vitamins C and D, it’s also popular in Holland, with further growth expected across Europe.
Apparently, Lipton has reduced the sugar used in its RTD tea by 30% in the last five years. Iced tea is today more authentic and more natural. Concentrate kits of 5,000 litres are sent to 100 Pepsi bottlers around the globe. In 2007, one billion litres (that’s 3 billion cans) were sold, which is enough for 382 Olympic-sized swimming pools!
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020
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