Business

Wednesday, Jan 16 2013 03:59 PM

Bolthouse puts food science to work at new Innovation Center

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Bolthouse Farms Chief Operating Officer Scott LaPorta speaks about the company's $5 million investment in a new Innovation Center at its Bakersfield headquarters. Seated with LaPorta are Todd Putman, chief marketing officer for Bolthouse Farms, and Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    In a test kitchen using regular home appliances, food scientist Cecilia Colin experiments with new recipes for carrots. One saucepan cooks carrots in a caramel sauce, and in the other she stirs carrots in a buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese. Bolthouse unveils a new Innovation Center at its Bakersfield headquarters.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Members of the media and public were treated to a tour of Bolthouse Farms new Innovation Center at its Bakersfield headquarters. Bolthouse Farms Technologist Jason Bernardo mixes ingredients to improve the taste one of the company's salad dressings.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Members of the media and public were treated to a tour of Bolthouse Farms new Innovation Center at its Bakersfield headquarters. Bolthouse Farms Research Technologist Deborah Noleto works on improving the flavor of one of the company's drinks.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    A carrot vending machine is located in the new Bolthouse Farms Innovation Center at its Bakersfield headquarters. The machine holds a new seasoned carrot product the company hopes will encourage consumers to purchase healthy low-calorie carrot snacks over potato chips and candy.

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  6. 6 of 6

    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    A carrot vending machine is located in the new Bolthouse Farms Innovation Center at its Bakersfield headquarters. The machine holds a new seasoned carrot product the company hopes will encourage consumers to purchase healthy low-calorie carrot snacks over potato chips and candy.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house event was no excuse for the food scientists at Bolthouse Farms' new Innovation Center to take the day off Wednesday.

So while executives of the carrot giant led local dignitaries and news reporters on a tour of the $5 million facility, Bolthouse's research and development work went on as normal.

In the center's food laboratory, a scientist in a white lab coat, Prakash Bhagwati, experimented with carrot greens. His goal was to preserve the highly nutritious juice's bright color over the three or four months it might have to sit on a grocery store shelf.

"It is very unstable in its natural form," he said of the carrot's naturally green chlorophyll, "so we have to do some processing to make it stable."

Meanwhile, over in the test kitchen, another white-coated scientist worked over a stove to infuse locally grown Bolthouse carrots with a spicy sauce that made them taste like Buffalo chicken wings and blue cheese.

The challenge now, food scientist Cecilia Colin said, is to engineer the product's packaging to maximize consumer convenience.

"The purpose is making it microwaveable," she said.

It's all part of Bolthouse's plan to roll out new products that will expand its menu of healthy yet super-convenient products such as baby carrots, juices and, most recently, salad dressings.

Already new products have sprouted at the 18,000-square-foot facility at Bolthouse's East Brundage Lane headquarters. One of these -- "flavored carrots" -- is being test-marketed around the country in hopes to reaching supermarkets nationwide later this year.

Although flavored carrots can't be purchased locally yet, the product fills a second-floor vending machine at the new center. It comes in three flavors: lime and salt, salsa and ranch. The carrots' innovative packaging separates the carrots from the spices in such a way that the consumer has only to pull on the plastic packaging, shake it and eat.

The company's chief operating officer and chief financial officer, Scott LaPorta, touted the product in a speech in front of the building Wednesday morning.

"We recognize that eating healthy can be a challenge," he said, adding that the facility is to be a "catalyst for better food, better choices."

Another important activity at the Innovation Center is comparing Bolthouse products with those of its competitors. Specially designed "sensory" booths near the entrance allow employees and visitors to log in to a computer before testing products for freshness and color.

Forty food scientists and marketing people work at the new center, which is part of a larger processing facility that employs about 1,800.

Bakersfield-based Bolthouse was founded in 1915. It was acquired last year by Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup Co.

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