Food company H J Heinz has celebrated the official opening of its new global innovation and quality centre.

Heinz will dedicate almost $100 million to strategic innovation activities in North America alone over the next five years," chairman, president and CEO William R. Johnson said at a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new centre.

Located in Marshall Township, north of Pittsburgh, the 100,000-square-foot facility is Heinz's global hub for research and development and home to more than 100 chefs, food technologists, researchers and package designers, plus experts in nutrition and quality assurance, the company said. The centre provides technical direction, assistance and advice to Heinz business units worldwide.

"The innovation and quality centre you see today is testament to our resolve to utilize innovation to spur growth," Johnson said. "Our global innovation teams are energized, like never before, with a strong focus on delivering new products, new packages, better nutrition, better taste and consumer value."

Before the opening of the new centre, Heinz researchers and development teams were scattered in a number of 100-year-old buildings in the company's former complex on the Pittsburgh's North Shore. Heinz invested more than $13m to create the world-class facility located on the Marconi Campus. It signed a long-term lease for the space last year and began construction in November 2004.

Housed at the Heinz global innovation and quality centre is its international centre for excellence in ketchup, condiments & sauces, a repository of technology and a knowledge base for tomatoes. A multi-national team operates out of key growing and processing regions worldwide and studies all facets of the tomato. They are seeking an understanding of the anti-oxidant lycopene and its means to enhance health and well-being. Botanists and agronomists are developing proprietary tomato hybrids to bolster field yields, enhance colour and flavour and to better withstand cooking and packing operations. Heinz technologists are reviewing every production phase from paste to packaging.