Nestlé USA opened the doors to its new research and development center in Solon, Ohio, marking the completion of the $50 million, 2-year project dedicated to advancing product development for the company’s frozen and chilled food businesses.

“Few areas of research are as complex as food research,” says Johannes Baensch, head of global product and technology development, Nestec Ltd. “Nestlé has a long-standing reputation for excellence in research on food and nutrition, and this research center is regarded as one of the world’s leading laboratories in food and life sciences. By creating Nestlé R&D Solon, we are transporting a significant piece of our global research expertise to the United States, our largest global market.”

Stellar, Jacksonville, Fla., completed the design-build services, architecture, engineering and construction for the 144,000-square-foot facility. With 800 ingredients on hand, the center was designed to focus on product innovation and renovation with the added goal of exploring ways to reduce sodium and saturated fat, eliminate partially hydrogenated oils, incorporate more vegetables and create gluten-free and high-protein options.

“While we’ve worked with Nestlé on more than 20 different projects over the years, this facility was especially rewarding, as it combined many of our capabilities in one project,” says Richard Lovelace, divisional vice president, commercial for Stellar. “The grand opening timing [July 22] is also gratifying, as we’re celebrating Stellar’s 30th anniversary this month. Our long-term relationships with companies like Nestlé are the foundation of our success and underlie everything we do.”

Nestlé R&D Solon also features a state-of-the-art sensory lab with 15 tasting booths, built with controlled lighting, humidity and sound to help researchers better understand the human response to food. In the facility’s culinary center, Nestlé teams work with food and beverage supplier-partners to observe first-hand how ingredients sourced for Nestlé products perform in recipes developed in the kitchen. These two areas feature high-end presentation kitchens equipped with cameras, TVs and other technology.

The facility also houses smaller “pilot plants” where the latest technology advances and new recipes can be evaluated and refined prior to marketplace introduction. For example, the “dough pilot plant” is dedicated to developing and testing frozen pizza and Hot Pocket sandwich recipes. The pilot plant can produce samples for consumer testing, shelf-life studies and evaluation of recipes’ performances prior to large-scale production.

“We’re experiencing one of the most profound shifts in how people eat right now. To address the ever-changing landscape, we’re striving to make our products healthier and tastier using unmatched R&D capability, nutrition science and passion for quality in everything we do,” says Paul Grimwood, chairman and CEO.

Throughout the years, Nestlé has consolidated its U.S. frozen and chilled food businesses into one campus in Solon. Brands either launched or relocated to this area include Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Nestlé Toll House, Hot Pockets, Lean Pockets, DiGiorno, California Pizza Kitchen, Tombstone andJacks.

“The new center is an invaluable addition to our R&D capabilities,” says Sean Westcott, director of Nestlé R&D Solon. “We’ve truly created a community of experts to help fuel innovative ideas that offer consumers the frozen and chilled foods choices they want.”

Stellar designed the center based on an open concept with flexibility to promote collaboration and creativity. Large glass curtain walls with metal panels surround the exterior, while the interior features exposed structural elements and mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

Nestlé R&D Solon also exhibits sustainable design and is certified by the Green Building Initiative for Environmental & Energy Efficiency One Green Globe. The project’s green features include drought-tolerant landscaping, low-flow fixtures, recycled materials and emission minimization. The facility also uses all-natural refrigerants in both its mechanical and refrigeration systems.