The remodeled center, unveiled here earlier this month, consolidates the retailer’s food scientists, chefs and quality assurance personnel.
Previously, the teams were spread among offices in two adjacent counties in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The remodeled facility should provide a lift to Albertsons’ private label offerings, says Jim Seiple, the group vice president who manages Albertsons’ own brands effort.
“We’re No. 1 or No. 2 in 40% of the categories in which we compete,” Seiple says of the company’s 20 store brands, each of which, like Seiple himself, came to the company via Safeway, which Albertsons acquired in January.
Brand names include Signature, Lucerne and O Organics. Products range from mops to milk, says Seiple, and contribute “thousands of SKUs” to the shelves of stores operating under such banners as Vons, Acme, Jewel-Osco, Lucky and Amigos.
Albertsons has 18 manufacturing plants churning out cheese, bread, sauces and carbonated beverages.
In addition, it maintains relationships with between 700 and 800 product suppliers worldwide, each of which is asked annually to ship three cases of each product to the culinary kitchen and technology center, where the products are put through a series of tests designed to make sure items sold under the company’s brands are safe to use and properly made, Seiple says.
“This investment allows us to ratchet up the quality,” he adds.
The 33,000-square-foot facility serves three over-arching goals for Albertsons’ own brands, Seiple says: to improve existing items, to find ways to lower the cost of making and packaging the products, and to invent new products.
“As grocers, we love challenging our culinary team to come up with new own brand products that keep pace with the changing tastes and preferences of customers in every neighborhood we serve,” says Shane Sampson, chief marketing and merchandising officer for Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons.
The new center encompasses several labs — for quality assurance tests, meat testing, deli and prepared food testing, tests of snacks and beverages, and reviews of non-food items. It also includes an analytical lab where food can be tested for such qualities as acidity, coloring and shelf life.
The center’s space also includes a large chef’s kitchen equipped with the fryers, ovens, freezers and other food preparation equipment that is typically used in the company’s retail stores, as well as three kitchens featuring ovens (gas and electric) found in the kitchens of millions of Americans.
For Seiple, who began advocating for the facility about four years ago, having the center’s 60 employees in one place is a boon to efficiency and should facilitate the free flow of ideas required to bring innovations to market.
“To make a frozen meal product you need a meat expert, a starch expert, a produce person,” Seiple says. “It’s not likely you’d find all that expertise in one individual. It’s a collaborative process, where the people who make something need to check with others to see if they would like that product and would use it.”