Experience, that's what marketing is all about nowadays. An ‘experience center’ is the ultimate way for a company to create a positive vibe around its brand. The food industry has also discovered and embraced the phenomenon. More and more food companies in the Netherlands and Belgium are providing a glimpse into their kitchen with their own experience center. However, here it is about much more than just experience. The food industry likes to combine ‘experience’ with education and innovation.
In 2012, Coca-Cola introduced the ‘hug machine’ in Singapore for the first time, a vending machine that you have to cuddle to get a can of soda. It is a small but very effective form of ‘experience marketing’: giving customers a good feeling about a brand through experience. People then love to share such a ‘happy experience’ with their friends. As a company, you can't have better influencers. Judging by the happy faces seen on social media, Coca-Cola is still proving very effective with the cuddle machine.
Marketing nowadays is all about ‘experience’. Straightforward promotion and sales of a product has had its day. Today's consumers are well-informed and have already read a company's sales pitch on the internet. They want more: to learn something instead of just listening, creative interaction with a company and, above all, to experience a brand. That offers companies great opportunities: they can offer their customers a special experience through such a form of marketing and create a positive vibe around their brand. The perfect place for this: an experience center. Beer brewers, oil companies, kitchen manufacturers, football clubs: many self-respecting brands nowadays have such an ‘experience building’.
The food industry has also discovered and embraced the experience center. More and more food companies are providing a glimpse into the kitchen and immersing visitors in the world of meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, fruit, bread and pastries. It’s a logical development; if there is one segment that lends itself perfectly to experience, then it is the food industry. The experience centers of food companies are very often equipped with a large kitchen. Tasting is, by definition, experience and a wonderful way to develop and test new products together with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.
Experience, education and inspiration are keywords that are regularly used when it comes to experience centers in the food industry. Take Panerex, the Belgian bread and pastry bakery that opened a state-of-the-art branch in the municipality of Maasmechelen last year. This family business has been around for more than 80 years and, a few years back, decided that it was time for growth. However, they decided this was not to be in an anonymous building on an anonymous industrial site. Instead, Panerex built an ‘experience bakery’ of 2,500 m2, a large part of which is open to the public. Customers can buy their baguettes and croissants while watching, in the background, the preparation and baking of rice nougatine pies, brioches, strawberry puffs and tiger breads. It doesn't stop there; in the design bakery, customers can also learn how to bake bread themselves and experience first-hand what is involved in preparing a real Limburg vlaai. Under the title ‘The Academy by Panerex’, Panerex offers a wide range of inspiring bakery workshops to private individuals and companies, as well as schools, including intensive hands-on sessions and extensive bakery tours.
Seeing, tasting, smelling and feeling fruit and vegetables; that is the aim of the new Experience Center that Van Gelder Groente en Fruit has built in Ridderkerk in the Netherlands. In addition to experience, education and inspiration are also central here. The wholesaler wants to better place the fruit and vegetable sector on the map nationally and internationally and to share its knowledge in the field of healthy food and sustainability with customers, suppliers, governments and students. In the Experience Center, Van Gelder is happy to
explain what the process looks like, from grower to end users. This way, visitors can learn everything about growing, packaging, processing, storing and transporting fruit and vegetables. Talking about education – next to the building, soon there will be 75 different types of fruit tree in an orchard. The children from the neighborhood can learn here that delicious fruit comes not from a factory, but grows in nature.
The Van Gelder Experience Center is given the shape and transparency of a greenhouse. Real vegetables are grown vertically on the top floor. The innovation center of the wholesaler also aims, together with customers, to develop new products with more taste and higher nutritional values. Van Gelder has called upon the help of PlantLab, a company specialized in innovative vertical cultivation. Those who grow vegetables also, naturally, want to taste them. Van Gelder therefore organizes workshops for visitors in the enormous kitchen next to the greenhouse. Newly developed products from the greenhouse are immediately and extensively tested here - as should be the case in an experience center.
Van Gelder's initiative shows that experience centers in the food industry are about more than ‘just’ marketing. They are true breeding grounds for innovation. Also take a look at FrieslandCampina's Innovation Center. The dairy group brings together expertise in the field of research & development, marketing, sales and logistics with the aim of developing new concepts and products. That FrieslandCampina is serious about this is evidenced by the location: the company’s Innovation Center has, since 2013, been located on the campus of Wageningen University & Research, one of the most important universities in the world in the field of agriculture and food technology.
The philosophy behind the innovation center is that innovation thrives best in broad, open partnerships. As well as the approximately 450 employees that come together in Wageningen, FrieslandCampina can also easily collaborate here with scientists and other companies active in the dairy industry. The dairy group sets the bar high; the innovation center must provide solutions to major social issues, such as feeding the growing world population with sufficient nutrients and affordable food. According to FrieslandCampina, milk has many more benefits to offer.
The Innovation Center of FrieslandCampina – a total of almost 20,000 m2 and rewarded with the BREEAM sustainability certificate – consists of laboratories, rooms for taste tests, a test factory and of course…. an experience center. In the ‘innovation kitchen’ and ‘test bakery’, employees and visitors from all over the world can taste, smell and feel dairy products.
The campus of Wageningen University & Research has yet another high-tech experience center: the Global Foods Innovation Center of food company Unilever. About 550 employees from research & development, researchers and students from the university, startups, knowledge centers and consumers can meet here and, according to Unilever, work together in a sustainable way on healthy food innovations. The aim being to deliver ‘food for the future’; sustainable foods that can cope with the strong growth of global food needs. The energy-neutral building itself is in any case futureproof. Unilever recently won two BREEAM Awards, including the audience award.
The 18,000 m2 Global Foods Innovation Center has various laboratories and a real ‘Pilot Plant’ where new products are made in limited volumes. This pilot plant is connected to the ‘Food & Customer Experience’; no fewer than five test kitchens where experiments are being carried out with new sustainable ingredients and recipes. Employees, nutrition experts, students and consumers can test all kinds of innovations here, daily and share their findings.
A state-of-the-art building calls for a perfect floor. That is why Van Gelder groente en fruit installed around 6,500 m2 of Bolidt floors in its new experience center. For the innovation center of FrieslandCampina, Bolidt created customized floors for the reception hall, laboratories and industrial spaces. Panerex opted for quality flooring from Bolidt, because of its wear and slip resistance, and because of its attractive appearance and high-quality finish. The various components of the new global foods innovation center from Unilever also received custom floors from Bolidt, totaling nearly 5000 m2.
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