The Texture Center of Excellence, scheduled to be operational in 2008, will include a focus group room with observation area, a computerized descriptive analysis room, a culinary kitchen and isolated testing booths. According to the firm, which revealed the move at the IFT food expo earlier this month, the new center will meet a growing industry need for texture understanding and control, and will help provide greater collaboration with customers. "Our research shows that, compared to flavor, texture is clearly an under-exploited dimension in foods," said Joseph Light, senior director, National Starch customer solutions and product innovation. "Our goal, as a specialty ingredients company, is to create a unique group of capabilities that coalesce into what we call a 'Texture Center of Excellence.' This will be one of the best facilities available anywhere to refine the understanding of how texture is experienced by consumers and transform that understanding into product development action and consumer-winning food formulations," he said. National Starch said its specialty starch ingredients can provide texture properties in nearly all food systems, ranging from low to high moisture foods. Researchers at the new texture center will examine nearly every starch raw material currently available, said the company. "The Texture Center will also support National's leadership positions in clean label/organic texturizers (Novation functional and organic starches and Homecraft flours) and functional fibers and whole grain flours (Hi-maize 5-in-1 Fiber, Nutriose soluble fiber and Hi-maize whole grain)," said Light. "Clean label, fiber enrichment and whole grain are three of the fastest-growing trends in the food industry. We anticipate using our prototyping, consumer testing and pilot plant capabilities to help our customers create, scale up and introduce successful new products at a much faster pace to capitalize on these growing markets." According to Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD), 12 percent of new products launched last year featured texture claims on the front panel, a 50 percent increase from 2003. GNPD also found that nearly 22 percent of all new products launched in 2005 had starch listed as an ingredient. National Starch said its new texture center, a "multimillion dollar" project, is one of a number of recent investments the firm has made to expand its sensory analysis and materials science capabilities relating to texture.