World research centre for healthy drinks

Unilever has chosen the UK to open a world centre for research and development into drinks.

The advanced technology centre will focus on creating new products for all Unilever’s beverages across the globe. The focus of the product development will be on drinks that deliver natural taste and health benefits.

Called Colworth Science Park it will be Unilever’s global Centre of Excellence for Drinks in the UK. Colworth R&D employs 90 product developers and technology specialists from 15 countries and brings together all Unilever’s beverages experts in one place, enhancing an already strong capability through direct interaction.

“Using some of the near €50 million budget that Unilever dedicates to R&D drinks annually, the key task for this team of experts will be to create drinks that deliver real health benefits and taste great, but that are also convenient and affordable – from weight-management teas to cholesterol-lowering milk drinks and yoghurts,” said a spokesman.

To develop these products, the centre will focus on bringing out the natural taste and health benefits from plants such as tea, fruits, vegetables and soy.

The Centre of Excellence for Drinks director, Phil Evans, said that “we know from experience that some of the most exciting innovations are born out of fusions between consumer and technical insights.

“Unilever has both of these; we can really deliver our promise of taste, health and convenience through our products and we are passionate about bringing our technology to life for the benefit of drinkers of all Unilever’s beverages.”

To make the drinks stand out from the competition, the Colworth centre will build on the strong technical capability that has helped make Unilever the world’s leading tea business in:

  • tea manufacturing technology (taste quality and goodness from bush to cup);
  • drinks ingredients technology (providing natural ingredients with health benefits);
  • drinks packaging (innovative packaging formats that are convenient and act as a ‘silent salesman’).

Unilever’s R&D capabilities in drinks have supported the rise of Lipton to become the world’s number-one tea brand (and the world’s second largest branded beverage) and that of PG tips, the UK’s number-one tea brand, with innovations such as the pyramid tea bag, ready-to-drink teas, tea products with weight-management benefits, and natural leaf tea that brews in cold water to allow consumers to make fresh ice tea without having to wait for it to cool.

Other drinks innovations based on these R&D capabilities include cholesterol-lowering milk and yoghurt drinks, fruit and vegetable mini-drinks and soy-based fruit juice.

Deep in the English countryside near Bedford, Unilever scientists at Colworth are also exploring how advanced molecular and cellular biology can be used to create better foods and improve everyday products such as washing powders and toothpastes.

When the scientists look out of their laboratory windows they can see their colleagues working to make agriculture more sustainable. The focus is largely on the impact that farming has on biodiversity and learning how to protect biodiversity can help improve farming practices worldwide.

Colworth is home to 700 scientists, technologists, legal professionals and support staff with a diverse range of skills in various areas, including agriculture. The estate covers almost 490 hectares (1,210 acres) of which 83 hectares are the Colworth Science Park, including parkland, sports facilities and a nine-hole golf course.

The remaining land is run as a commercial farm with arable land, a small amount of grassland and some woodland. The farm grows oilseed rape, winter and spring wheat, field beans and also operates.

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