Puratos welcomes Midwest bakers, chocolate pros to $1.5m Chicago innovation center, its 6th in US

By Kristine Sherred

- Last updated on GMT

The bread lab at Puratos' new Chicago innovation center boasts enough room for two groups of 10 to 15 people and state-of-the-art equipment.
The bread lab at Puratos' new Chicago innovation center boasts enough room for two groups of 10 to 15 people and state-of-the-art equipment.

Related tags Puratos Bread sourdough Pastry Chocolate R&D Innovation innovation hub Education Chicago

The baking and confectionery supplier hosted an opening party for about 150 customers at the brand-new 6,700-square-feet facility in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

The Chicago center is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment: MIWE ovens, Rondo sheeters, spiral mixers and Koma retarders, among others. Modern amenities are a necessity for Puratos to offer the best options out there to its customers, VP of R&D Guillaume Bourneau told BakeryandSnacks at the official opening on October 22. 

The bread lab can fit two groups of 10 to 15 people for educational sessions and demos, he said, adding hands-on experiences would necessitate smaller groups. One-on-one sessions are not uncommon, and Puratos encourages customers to invite not only their head bakers to innovation sessions but also their marketing and sales directors.

Puratos Chicago Innovation Center opening pastry
Desserts for the taking at the opening party for Puratos' new innovation center in Chicago.

“We want them to be able to articulate the products… to optimize the value of the product,” ​said Bourneau. “What creates value is explaining the increased value of a finished good.”

Co-creation is key to “accelerating the development process,”​ he added. Many producers just do not have the space or the expertise on staff to truly innovate; they tend to be more reactive and cost-competitive.

Puratos believes innovation centers like this one allow producers to leave Chicago – or any of the company’s 88 innovation centers in 100-plus countries – with a workable product in at most three days.

“They can come back home with something they can scale,” ​said Bourneau.

Adjoining the bread lab is a separate, oven-free, temperature-controlled pastry and chocolate room equipped with a Koma blast freezer and chocolate tempering machines.

In addition to its sourdough and wholegrain focus – on broad display at the ‘Marketplace’​ at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) in September – Puratos provides ingredients ranging from fats and emulsifiers to fruit fillings and chocolate. Bakers and patissiers will be able to access the company's Sourdough Library, a collection of leavening agents from around the world, as well as Cacao-Trace, Puratos' sustainable cocoa sourcing program.

Andy Brimacombe, president of Puratos USA, said the company's innovation centers provide a unique space to connect with customers and support their creativity. "Local is in our corporate DNA,"​ he said. "We're looking forward to paying homage to Midwestern cuisine and taste preferences."

Puratos Chicago Innovation Center main hall
Inside view of Puratos' new Chicago innovation center, a former lumberyard built in the 1890s.

Flexibility and realistic innovation from a foodie paradise

The Belgium-based supplier operates several innovation centers on the US East and West coasts. So far in 2019, the company has worked with more than 1200 customers in its US labs. But the company felt a void in middle America and ultimately selected Chicago for its centrality and for its deep connection to food.

The space – a former lumberyard used in the 1893 World’s Fair – has been operational for a few weeks, Bourneau told us. Puratos signed the lease in November 2018, and construction began earlier this year.

Puratos Chicago Innovation Center office
The Puratos team carrying out pastries for the opening of its new Chicago innovation center.

Lisa Grenier, VP of operations, said the company scoured the city and surrounding suburbs for the ideal space. Rather than settle for a more traditional, upscale office setting, Puratos appreciated the history inherent in this turn-of-the-century building.

It sits in the heart of Pilsen, an historical Mexican neighborhood near Chicago’s industrial core on the southwest side. Next door, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria – a local brewery specializing in Latin American-inspired beer – will anchor the two-building space known as Mural Park.

(Puratos’ educational center in Mexico City also flanks a brewery.)

Bourneau described the choice to be here as exciting and integral to Puratos’ wider mission of bringing artisan techniques and ingredients to commercial bakery, pastry and chocolate.

The build-out kept the original wooden beams intact and exposed brick, though the original floors had to be replaced.

The entrance is vast, with high-ceilings and local art along the walls. Up a small set of stairs is a waiting room attached to a conference room – all in view of the main attraction: the innovation labs.

Bourneau was quick to note that the labs are a far cry from the massive industrial settings in which many of its customers produce their goods. But, he countered, “the fact that it’s not a manufacturing facility adds more flexibility.”

Puratos Chicago Innovation Center facade sky
The facade of Mural Park, home to Puratos' new innovation center in Chicago.

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