At the nondescript two-story brick building at the northwest corner of Elm and Ninth streets is Kroger's new Culinary Innovation Center, a state-of-the-art -- and super-secretive -- test kitchen and education center.
Unless you're chosen as part of a focus group, don't expect to get inside the secretive place where the Cincinnati-based company plans to develop new products and grow its business.
Kroger VP of Culinary Development and New Business Daniel Hammer says, "Really, what we do (at 901 Elm) is we create products and projects. An example would be meal kits." Hammer explains not only is the focus on Prep + Pared meal kits but also on the Kroger brand, including frozen foods.
The Center's commercial kitchen features multiple cooking stations, spaces and technology allowing video streaming to Kroger associates across the country.
Chris Bushelman, the executive chef of Kroger's new Union, Ky, restaurant, Kitchen 1883, likens the Center to "Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory." Bushelman says chefs at the Center use such methods as sous vide, a water bath using a circulator to provide heat to cook food sealed in bags, among other unique cooking modes.
They also have a C-Vap oven, or controlled vapor technology. It is similar to sous vide but without the bag. It holds the food in a rain forest-like environment preventing it from losing or gaining humidity.
Here's an explainer video from the oven's manufacturer:
Kitchen 1883 also has a C-Vap. Information from one of Kroger's wholly-owned subsidiaries helps the company figure out what consumers want. Hammer describes how data science from the former dunnhumby, now 84.51°, works.
"One meal kit recipe doesn't always touch all of our customers," he says. "We want to be very cognizant. The West Coast has a slightly different taste profile." Hammer says the big data from 84.51° allows Kroger to drill down into the profiles so the company can hit its mark.
Kroger plans to have only one Culinary Innovation Center, but more restaurants are planned. Another Kitchen 1883 will open in Anderson Township this fall.