By Nora Heston Tarte
Business Journal Writer
TURLOCK — The Central Valley spice business is hot. Located in the heart of California’s agricultural hub, spice businesses in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties offer quality, local ingredients to create proprietary spice blends and other flavor products to restaurants and manufacturers around the world.
Sensient Natural Ingredients in Turlock takes advantage of California’s most popular ingredients to create flavor blends for both restaurants and manufacturing companies, with an emphasis on organic ingredients.
“Our core business is of course our California-grown garlic, onion and parsley,” Jean Shieh, Marketing Manager for Sensient Natural Ingredients, said.
Long-standing relationships with local growers — some dating back three generations — help the business thrive. Customers are satisfied knowing they are getting quality, California-grown ingredients, many of which are now offered certified-USDA organic.
SupHerb Farms, also in Turlock, specializes in individually quick-frozen (IQF) herbs, taking locally-grown herbs and processing them on the day of harvest.
“Our proprietary process for manufacturing our herbs allows us to provide the freshest quality herbs to the market year-round,” said Anna Lewis, Product Innovation Manager at SupHerb Farms.
While their specialties are different, both companies have similar development processes, working with chain restaurants and food manufacturers to develop specific flavor profiles using Central Valley agricultural products. This includes spice blends and other products such as pastes and purees used in cooking and preparing foods.
At Sensient, when the customer launches a new product, the research and development teams from both Sensient and the customer team work together to pick the right ingredients to create the flavor they are after, while also paying attention to color, texture, application, etc.
“What the consumers want drive the industry,” Shieh said.
To help customers remain competitive in the business and turn out products that will thrive, Sensient’s team share their research on what is trendy in the food industry beyond just flavor.
For Sensient, this has led to a shift toward organic ingredients, with two-digit growth in the organic market year over year. Organic chili pepper and paprika are two of the products offered by Sensient.
“Last year we harvested our first year of organic onion … grown in California,” Shieh said.
The goal is to provide more organic, natural ingredients to the food industry through Sensient’s hundreds of customers, from national, international and regional brands, in retail and in food service. It’s an important endeavor because any food product marked certified organic must contain a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients, and the remaining 5 percent is only allowable for ingredients that are not offered organic at the time of production.
The process can be tricky because organic foods are more strictly regulated in California than the rest of the country, meaning every organic product that comes out of Sensient must meet both federal and state regulations.
“Piece of mind is really what we offer our customers and consumers,” Shieh said. “We’re really proud of the quality of our product.”
But with more than one local company in the same industry, how does Sensient, part of the larger Sensient Technologies parent company, set itself apart?
“We have vertical integrations in our supply chain,” Shieh said. “We don’t just buy and sell. We work with our growers, we really control the full process.”
SupHerb uses its IQF technology to serve foodservice operators and food manufacturers, including an extensive selection of IQF Culinary Herbs, Specialty Vegetables, Purées and SupHerb Farms Fusions® Blends and Pastes.
“We work with restaurant chains, large and small, throughout the country to provide ideal fresh flavor solutions featuring our IQF herbs, specialty vegetables, purées and culinary pastes and blends,” Lewis said. “Our research and development team is able to translate gold standard recipes and concepts from chefs and restaurants into full-scale manufactured products that can be made in upwards of 2000-pound batches.”
At any one time, SupHerb’s staff is handling 75 to 100 projects in various stages of progress.
“New projects are vetted to determine their viability and once they pass that internal vetting, they transition to our research and development department to begin flavor development,” Lewis said.
Much like Sensient, the internal research and development team is responsible for creating an end product consumers will enjoy — one that both tastes and looks appetizing.
“We also sell our products to food manufacturing companies that add our ingredients to their consumer-packaged goods and products, and those companies also range in all sizes and locations,” Lewis said.
While the mission of both companies is to provide tasty end products for consumers, both have a responsibility to the agricultural industry and the local community.
SupHerb Farms says it is by balancing environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic prosperity that the company is able to sustain and improve the health of the planet, the viability of the business and the quality of life for its communities, future generations and themselves.
At Sensient, Shieh said the company works tirelessly to improve the local community by hiring Central Valley residents. The majority of employees live in, and are often from, the Central Valley. To maintain that ratio, Sensient uses internship opportunities to draw in locals.
“The relationship between our business and the community is very important,” Shieh said.