It’s like the Willy Wonka factory, but not. Inside an office building outside of Pittsburgh, an army of chefs and scientists, engineers, and bean counters (no Oompa Loompas, sadly) is planning the next generation of products for Heinz. The ketchup company has pledged to dedicate nearly $100 million to product innovation in North America alone, making sure there is life for it beyond ketchup.

An AP article goes behind the scenes at Heinz:

Focus groups gather in rooms lined with one-way mirrors and surveillance equipment. Workers assess the taste and texture of experimental foods in laboratories. Packaging experts build three-dimensional models of containers or operate machines that simulate the wear-and-tear of trucks and other vehicles that might transport Heinz products.

Elsewhere at the center, employees run a so-called pilot plant — a scaled-down packaged food and condiment factory. A mock supermarket invites consumers to browse aisles stocked with Heinz and competing products while employees monitor them.

The company reports that, since the center opened in 2005, the success rate for new products has more than doubled, from about 40 percent to more than 85 percent. Heinz has also come up with such breakthroughs as the upside-down ketchup squeeze bottle.

OK, it’s not as cool as lickable wallpaper, but we’ll take it.

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