As a new generation of epicureans take their place at the world table, Synergy Flavors creates the flavorings and sensory experiences they demand.
For Synergy Flavors, taking a sustainable approach to growth is in the company’s DNA. Four dairy cooperatives and their 1,400-plus dairy farmers own its corporate parent, Ireland’s Carbery Group. These farms have been passed down from generations, and the farmers have cultivated a passionate connection to the land that continues to inspire every aspect of Carbery’s growth today.
“Our shareholders are members of the co-ops, and their belief in the value of long-term investments has been handed down from generation to generation,” said Synergy CEO Rod Sowders. “It informs all of our decisions as we go forward.”
Acquired by Carbery in 1998, Synergy is one of the world’s foremost vanilla producers and boasts over 130 years of expertise in nutrition and flavorings. The company operates facilities in Illinois, Ohio, and New York, as well as in Ireland, the UK, Brazil, and Thailand. Plans to open an additional facility in Indonesia are underway.
An Era of Ingredient Transparency
The growing flavorings market is driven largely by millennial customers who are seeking new taste experiences and want to understand what is in the food they eat.
“Our demand is ultimately driven by our consumers’ desire for cleaner labels and natural products,” Sowders noted. “Consumers want to know the story behind the ingredients and the products; that’s part of their desire for natural.
“Natural food and beverages have been the fastest growing category in the industry for several years, and that goes for the demand for natural flavorings as well.”
Growth spurred by the desire for non-GMO, all-natural flavorings is not without formidable infrastructure and investment challenges.
As Sowders put it, “it’s pretty challenging to find flavor ingredients that meet the natural definition. In fact, they have very limited availability and in some cases they don’t exist initially, so there’s a requirement to spend additional time to source those ingredients and to formulate new products with those ingredients.”
Those hurdles may be a world away from those leapt by ’60s-era dairy farmers, but Synergy takes them in stride. The company developed a best-in-class compliance group to stay at the cutting edge of global regulatory demands.
Each product ingredient within Synergy’s extensive bakery, savory, beverage, nutrition, dairy, and confectionery flavor library has a verifiable audit trail to maintain compliance. Sowders characterized the investment as “a pretty challenging thing to do for a midsize company, and we continue to score at the highest ranges on our external food safety and quality audits.”
The nutrition sector has its own very specific challenges when it comes to masking unappealing tastes. In some cases, the nutritional ingredients are necessary for their intended use, like higher sources of protein in recovery products. Sowders describes some of the unflavored products as “pretty bad tasting ingredients” that need a lot of help to become palatable.
“A lot of the work we do is making healthy, nutritious products taste better so that people can consume them,” he noted.
Pointing to an emerging trend that has yet to catch on in the US—insect protein—he laughed, “the people in our lab don’t particularly like to work on those, but it is a trend.”
The company has also worked on some other odd things in the past like the wacky post-Willy Wonka world of confectioners including gross-out flavors like vomit, rotten eggs, and earwax for kids.
Other trends Synergy is keeping pace with include floral essence for beverages and sweets.
New Tastes for the Developing World
As more people in developing nations reach the middle classes, a desire for new gustatory sensations and convenience foods have fueled robust growth in the global food and beverage sector.
With an estimated population of over 210 million people and a burgeoning middle class, Brazil is a prime example of new opportunities that have emerged with the demographic shifts. “In the last 10 years, more than 35 million people joined the middle class there,” Sowders explained. “We’ve been in Brazil for 10 years; we made a second acquisition there in 2012.
“It’s an important environment and a difficult regulatory environment to do business in, but it’s important for an international company to be playing in those markets.”
Having a global market presence also brings with it the need to give back. In addition to supporting a host of local community initiatives like Habitat for Humanity, Synergy is making educational opportunities available for the children of Madagascar.
“Madagascar is hugely important to Synergy. It grows 85 percent of the world’s vanilla beans, and is an incredibly poor country,” he said.
The country’s children are supposed to go to school through the age of 13, but most lack access to schools. To relieve some of that burden, Synergy has built two schools in the primary vanilla growing region and plan to open two more by the end of 2018.
“I’m a firm believer that education has to be part of the solution for a country to climb out of poverty,” stressed Sowders. “At any rate, that’s a big focus of ours. Our employees have gotten involved and asked how they can get even more involved, we’re all very proud of doing that work, and plan to continue that work.”
Serving up Taste and Service
“We’re fortunate to have a substantial amount of growth, but the central tenet of Synergy is that we are and have always been and will remain customer focused,” Sowders stated.
“The growth we’ve had, and that we hope we continue to have, is a testament to our great customers and the fantastic employees that we have,” he added.
“Synergy’s really gone from strength to strength over the past 15 years in the U.S. We’ve built and acquired substantial capabilities to serve our customers, and those capabilities have been built not only in our range of products, but it’s brought innovation to a level that I think exceeds other flavor companies of our size.”
Synergy Flavors is a leading manufacturer and supplier of flavorings, extracts, and essences with a truly global footprint. Part of Carbery Group, we have extensive experience across the food and beverage industry, developing high-quality taste solutions which inspire innovation and can help you stay one step ahead of the competition.
Our flavor creation and application capabilities span the globe with commercial, technical, and manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Brazil, the UK, Ireland, and Thailand. As a result, we have the market understanding to work collaboratively with customers worldwide to develop flavor solutions for diverse categories.