Cargill officially opened its new Innovation Center at 300 W. First St. in downtown Wichita on Friday with speeches and tours.
The $15 million, 75,000-square-foot building is devoted to research, development and marketing Cargill meat products.
It has room-size mock-ups of a home kitchen and a restaurant, as well as mock-ups of meat counters, all to show customers how products will look and cook in the real world. It also includes meat processing facilities, so Cargill can test how its products fare during handling, cooking and even chewing.
The building houses chemical and biological labs for testing and analysis of meat and meat products. It also includes a seasoning mixing facility.
In remarks during the opening ceremony, Cargill's Chief Financial Officer Sergio Rial said that the company has recently opened research centers around the world, but this is the only one in the world for the company's meat operations.
The need for such a center is growing, he said. In the coming decades, the world will add billions of people who will want higher-quality food, including meat. Technology must play a role in meeting in this demand, he said.
"As I entered this building, I felt the spark of a much deeper and broader connection to different parts of the world that will reinforce the position of Wichita as one of the leaders in exporting," he said.
Cargill recently served hamburger patties containing jalapeno and cheddar cheese for Burger King — one example of innovation — to visitors. The company is working on additional variations for a possible product line for the public in the future.
For Wichita, the Innovation Center represents the expansion of the research and development component of another key local industry.
The Wichita area already has advanced research and training facilities for the aviation industry.
Local leaders are now trying to raise $14 million for the Mid-Continent Regional Center for Health Care Simulation, a facility to improve the performance of medical professionals using simulators.
And now, Norton said, Wichita has one of most advanced centers in the world for innovation in agribusiness.
"We all know that food safety, airline safety and health safety will be even more critical for the future," he said.