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Consumer Healthcare’s R&D Complex in Richmond, Virginia
Consumer Healthcare’s R&D Complex

Richmond, Virginia

Where great consumer brands are born: GSK Richmond R&D Site

Consumer Healthcare’s Richmond (Virginia) R&D Complex is where many iconic GSK brands began – and the next generation is conceived. Its innovations helped make brands like Robitussin, ChapStick, Advil and Centrum household names.

Its story began more than a century ago when Albert Hartley Robins opened a small apothecary shop in downtown Richmond. From these humble beginnings, a world-class center for consumer healthcare research emerged. In 2019, Richmond became one of GSK Consumer Healthcare’s three global R&D hubs for Consumer Healthcare.

Hundreds of scientists work on everything from early stage research through development, testing and launch of the next new product or product improvement to hit store shelves. There’s much more to Richmond’s labs than state-of-the-art equipment and scientists in white lab coats, however. As our scientists say, consumers are the why behind everything they do.

Startup Lab: Where ‘CEO Scientists’ Nourish Fledgling Ideas

Innovation begins with a spark. Then what? That’s when the real work begins at the Startup Lab. The Startup Lab is a new approach for turning ideas into reality. Each new business venture operates as a small company startup with co-founders from commercial and R&D. Founders pitch ideas to a Venture Board for support and investment.

As a Founder, I am incredibly fortunate to have access to Richmond’s resources. On any given day, I can pick the brains of three floors of scientists. Colleagues have worked for years on our established brands and are excited to help advance these new ideas.” 

Founders get involved in everything, from product development – where they can tap other Richmond scientists for help – to consumer research, developing prototypes, sourcing manufacturing supplies, building partnerships and even distributing the new product in stores. They drive their startups using an experiment-driven approach, constantly testing ideas and then quickly executing what they learn. The approach enables GSK to explore new opportunities in a fast and inexpensive way.

Every Startup project is 100 percent dedicated to working together with consumers. They are our sounding board and partners in the creation of our new brands and products. On one project, we reached out to our panel more than 15 times in three months, on everything from rapid prototyping to website creation and evaluation”

Flavor Lab: Where ‘New and Improved’ Is Made

The secret to success in flavor is making it “experiential.” The consumer should enjoy the taste and all its complexities – from initial bite to aftertaste – as well as the product’s fragrance, color, shape and texture.

The Flavor Lab is where GSK tinkers with all those elements to improve its current products, so consumers will want to keep using them. The state-of-the-art lab is part of GSK’s Consumer Science and Product Understanding, which focuses on sensory science to meet consumers’ expectations.

What’s my favorite flavor? After 40 years as a flavorist, I still haven’t created it. That’s what keeps me motivated. We’re about making things true to your experience. A great flavor inspires nostalgia.”

Consumer Home: A Comfy Spot for Consumer Research

Richmond Comfy Spot

People don’t live in a laboratory or focus group room. Our Consumer Home looks just like someone’s home – complete with living room, kitchen, bedroom, office and bathroom. When we recruit people to participate in consumer research, we are quite literally, inviting them into our home.

The real-life home setting helps us connect on a more real level with consumers. We can see how they apply ChapStick in the bathroom mirror, or pull Robitussin from the nightstand in their bedroom when they have a cold. It gives us a deeper understanding of what’s going on in our consumers’ minds.”

10 Richmond Fun Facts

  1. The site is one of three global hubs for GSK Consumer Healthcare. It supports iconic brands such as Advil, Centrum, and ChapStick, and creates new brands such as 36 Bushels.
  2. The site has integrated consumer healthcare class-leading capability to go from “Concept to Consumer,” meaning it can develop ideas into products, scale them up and launch them into the market. 
  3. One recent launch from the Startup Labs is a brand that broke into the CBD category and went from experiment to minimal viable product in just nine months.
  4. The Flavor Lab’s extensive flavor library has over 200 essential oils and 1,000 aromatic chemicals to create flavors.
  5. No college or university teaches the science and art of flavor chemistry. There are only about 450 flavorists in the U.S. Prospective flavorists must apprentice with an experienced flavorist for at least seven years before making the grade.
  6. The Consumer Home has all the comforts of a real home – including a fully-functioning oven, sink, and even a toilet and shower.
  7. The Consumer Home is also fully wired for research, with multiple cameras throughout to stream events in real time to GSK scientists around the world.
  8. The Richmond site includes a 3D lab, where designers using 3D printers can create near-instant prototypes of package designs for immediate consumer feedback.
  9. Once a month, the Consumer Home hosts discussions with consumers on topics not tied to a specific project yet. Recent Third Thursday studies covered packaging design, benefit specific supplements and even the COVID-19 impact on consumers. Third Thursday projects help scientists better connect with consumers – and often spark new ideas or inspire specific design criteria for a new or current product.
  10. Site employees take pride not only in their scientific achievements but also in their contributions to the community. The site hosts many colleague volunteer events each year. It also won the Sterling Work Place Award as a Top Workplace in the Greater Richmond area in 2016.