Kentucky to Kathmandu

By David Dafoe

I always tell people that I love growing older because the alternative is death, and that is simply not attractive to me.  I actually like growing older, and I turned 50 this year and set two goals for the year.  One, I would watch 50 movies in the theater this year.  I love watching movies but never took the time to watch them in the theater, so I thought this would be a nice goal.  For the record, I will fail miserably – there just weren’t 50 movies I wanted to see. However, I have seen quite a few and it makes me pay attention and actually go to see the ones that look interesting.  You may want to know that the best movie so far was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  My second goal for the year was to travel somewhere every month of the year.  I am happy to say that so far I have succeeded and with an upcoming trip to Mexico in December, I will have been successful.  This brings me to Kathmandu.

We have an internal travel agency named All About Travel, and I am sometimes the lucky recipient asked to travel with the main travel agent to far and away places.  A couple of months ago he asked that I go with him on a trip to India and Nepal.  I thought for less than a second and agreed to go on the trip.  The plan was to land in New Delhi with a trip to see the Taj Mahal and then to Nepal for adventure including Mount Everest.  I had always wanted to see the Taj Mahal, and Nepal seemed intriguing, although never on my bucket list.  As it turned out, I was destined to visit Nepal, not for myself but to be at the right place at the right time to save a life.

The Taj Mahal was built by a King as a memorial to his late wife.  It is all about eternal love and the design and architecture reflect it in every way.  It is as impressive as one could imagine, and just being there is humbling and thought provoking.  In building Flavorman I often think “large and grand” but never to this scale……or do I?  No matter, this site will live in my mind forever.

After a short visit to India, we went to Nepal to connect with a small group of travel agents in Kathmandu.  By the way, I never knew Kathmandu had an “h” in the spelling of the name.  When you arrive you know you are in a special place.  The people are warm, the mountains are everywhere around and the surroundings are overwhelming.

Visiting the cities and villages, the art centers, the elephant sanctuaries and the mountainous areas is intoxicating.  On the last day we veered from the itinerary to do some white water rafting.  We are told that Nepal has more fresh water than any other country in the world after Brazil.  You can imagine the amount of fresh water generated by the snow topped mountains running through and between the ravines to the lowlands, eventually ending up in India and dumping into the Ganges River.  There were plenty of rapids and I was not sure I made the right decision to raft, but some significant peer pressure and a few beers convinced me otherwise.

We suited up eight in a raft and listened intently as the guide gave us a safety lecture and described the commands we would follow as we headed down the river.  I had rafted before but was a bit nervous about rafting in these rivers in areas where the river was surrounded on both sides by towering foothills.  I remember thinking that this was not a good day to die.

We got in the raft and down the river we floated practicing some of the commands we just learned.  It wasn’t long before we approached the first rapids, and we maneuvered through them with ease.  After we celebrated we enjoyed the calm current and quiet of the river.  We talked among ourselves and you could see some of the nervousness dissipate.  It was obvious I was not the only one with some apprehension.

As we floated we could see a foot bridge just down the river linking one side of the river to the other.  There were about ten people on the bridge, and as we got closer we waived and yelled out to them.  As we got closer we noticed a man climbing over the ropes, and within seconds someone in the boat yelled out that he was going to jump.  He did.

He landed face down.  The sound that his body made when he hit the water is one I will remember forever.  I thought he was just playing around trying to scare the rafters but quickly realized this was serious.  He never surfaced but lay face down in the water without much movement.  Then there was no movement.  We could still see his back and one of his arms.

Our guide told us to paddle forward which we did until he told us to stop.  When we did, the current turned the boat until the man was floating right next to our boat and right next to me.  The guide yelled for us to get him in the boat.  I dropped my paddle, and Darren (our travel agent at All About Travel) and I reached out to get him in the boat.  He had no shirt so there was nothing to grab onto so we had no luck trying to get him out of the water.

He started to float under the boat and I knew if that happened we would lose him forever.  I reached down and grabbed his long hair with both hands and pulled him into the boat by the hair until he rested across my legs face down.  The guide motioned for the group to paddle towards the shore.  I wanted this guy to start moving around so we would know he was breathing but it didn’t look like it would happen.  I remember patting his back as if that would make everything all right.  As we approached the shore, he suddenly coughed and started breathing.  I couldn’t believe it.  He moved his head and neck slowly and smiled.  He put his head back down and when we reached the shore he rolled out of the boat, stood up and walked away.  Not a word.

I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  The guide said that he would have died had we not intervened because the locals would not have got into the fast current of the river to rescue him.  Stunned, we pushed back and continued our journey.

We never learned his name or why he jumped off the bridge.  Was it really important anyway?  For me, this moment was indescribable.  Of all the joy I have had watching movies this year and all of the excitement and happiness travel has brought, nothing has been better during my fifty-first year on earth than that moment.  Namaste.


Across the Globe

By Marty Snyder, -CEO

Did we miss “International Week” on the calendar? 

Flavorman and our sister company, Distilled Spirits Epicenter, had the privilege of hosting new clients and visitors from around the world last week:  leading companies from Vietnam, Japan and the Director General of the European Spirits Organisation.  What a pleasure to collaborate with representatives of both old and break-through organizations.

What did we learn?  I can butcher “Good morning” in many languages…  And, the world is full of outstanding individuals, companies and organizations.

Over the years, we have heard from clients and groups from around the globe  –  South America, Africa, Asia, Europe…that they found their way to the U.S. in search of excellence, creativity, reliability and integrity.  There are many fine companies in every American industry, including the beverage industry.  Our recent (and previous) guests have told us that they are unaware of any company in Asia or Europe (and other continents) that provides the full range of Flavorman/Epicenter services and support.  That makes us very proud.

We are working hard to provide the best team in the business to our clients in North America and around the world!

Thank you for your business and friendship – no matter how big or small you are or where you reside.

Fact or Function?

By Cassie Marshall  -Senior Product Development Specialist

Consumers demand functionality.

Go to any convenience store, grocery store or Whole Foods, and you will find a vast selection of beverages with bold labels boasting the beneficial ingredients of the libation inside.  Exotic herbs, alluring extracts, avant garde vitamin blends and plant-derived sweeteners all promise to enhance the attractive function(s) of the drink.  But do they?  How do we know what these ingredients do?  And where do beverage developers like Flavorman find them?

There are many companies that specialize in ingredients for food and beverage applications.  The variety of elemental components for beverage products is astounding, and science is yielding new discoveries and introducing new data all the time.  So how does a beverage entrepreneur sift through it all?

Leave that to the experts.

In February 2012, Flavorman launched the FunctionFirst Program, a division dedicated to researching the newest products on the market in order to provide our clients with the best ingredient solutions in the business.  The FunctionFirst Program allows ingredient vendors to submit their products for our evaluation. Products range from sweeteners, to antioxidants, to wellness blends, to herbs and extracts. These products are set up in a variety of applications to ensure that we cover the gamut of beverages clients may wish to produce – carbonated beverages, juices and flavored waters, to name a few.

Once the evaluations are complete, we enter the results into our FunctionFirst Database. Flavorman’s Beverage Architects will be able to access this performance data and understand how these ingredients will best complement the beverages we are helping our clients create.  The ability to stay on the cutting-edge of ingredient and beverage technology allows Flavorman to inform and educate our clients about the latest trends and most innovative products on the market.

The FunctionFirst Team establishes a symbiotic relationship between Flavorman and our ingredient vendors for the benefit of our clients. With the information gained from our research we are able to provide our clients with expert knowledge throughout the beverage development process. The FunctionFirst Program is just another reason why we here at Flavorman say that we are the best in the business from start through finish.

The Perks and Quirks of a Professional Taster

By Kristen Wemer  -Product Development Specialist

I’ve always been a taster.

At a potluck, I’m the one who puts a tiny scoop of every dish onto my plate.  I prefer the array of bite-sized appetizers at cocktail parties to the sit-down dinner plate.  My favorite ice cream shop serves half-scoops, so I can maximize the number of flavors I can try without stuffing myself too full.  Grocery shopping is a practice in willpower, as I’d love to sample every block of cheddar cheese on the shelf so that I know which I’ll like best.  I’ve been known to perform impromptu at-home taste tests of everything from chocolate chips to bourbon.  And don’t even get me started on my wine tasting trip to Napa Valley.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to parlay my passion for flavors into a career where companies actually pay me money to taste and evaluate various items. Think dream job!  I began as an intern tasting oils.  Next, I climbed a level in the food pyramid to a stint tasting milk in the Quality Lab of a dairy.  Ok, so dream job is relevant, but it gets better.

I took my professional tasting experience to my first job out of college tasting yogurt, and then I mixed it up with my next assignment:  fish.

However, my job as a Product Development Specialist at Flavorman offers the ultimate sensory pastiche.  The projects going on in the lab at any given time provide a smorgasbord of flavors and aromas that can dazzle even this seasoned taster.  Not only do I taste the samples I’m working on, I get to sample the work of my colleagues.  It’s something different every day, from the conventional to the extreme.  All at once I can get my caffeine fix, satisfy my sweet tooth, expand my palate, and, greatest of all, ignite my imagination.

Too good to be true, right?  Well here’s the catch:  there is an ironic drawback to being an experienced taster– it can make one picky. As in discriminating, over-particular, critical, selective.  Persnickety, if you will.  During my internship tasting milk, I would perform tests on incoming raw milk to make sure it was safe to accept into the plant and pasteurize. Ninety percent of the time we would receive good, fresh milk. However, I promise you, those few times you taste that spoiled milk really stick with you—forever.  I can remember the taste so vividly that it makes it easier for me to pick out those “off-notes”,even in acceptable milk. The same thing happens in the Flavorman lab. It only takes a time or two tasting an oxidized citrus flavor in a flavored vodka or the emerging bitterness of certain vitamins a few months into the shelf life of an energy drink, and I can detect these pungent flavors in the smallest amounts in any drink.

Prototypes ready to be sampled and evaluated in the Flavorman Lab

In some ways this is a blessing and a curse. There are sometimes when I wish I didn’t notice all tiny things that most people can’t even perceive – when the oil in my pantry has a hint of rancidity which makes it unpalatable, or when I cook tilapia and can’t get past the muddiness. However, I like being conscious of what I’m consuming and contemplating what I’m tasting.  Because when it’s good, I know it’s really good.

Is One-of-a-Kind Packaging Your Key to Success?

Unique, custom bottle designs can impede profitability

Fresh, new ideas – and the creative people who come up with them – are the driving force behind Flavorman’s continued success. Whether it is a spicy flavored-water or blended scotch in an aluminum can, differentiation is a fundamental requirement for propelling a new product into consumers’ shopping carts. But what happens when your cornerstone concept becomes an impediment to your success?

Often, new beverage innovators are entirely convinced that the key to carving out a profitable niche on crowded shelves is through unique or novel packaging – think Frangelico as opposed to Jim Beam, or Arizona Iced Tea as opposed to Lipton Brisk. While there is an undeniable allure to the idea of a truly one-of-a-kind package on the shelf, the reality is that custom packaging is often a project-killer financially.

Large packaging manufacturers work on the same economies of scale as the rest of the world, and when they are able to produce millions and millions of the same rounded polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottle, the price per unit keeps getting lower. And lower. And lower. For custom packaging though, manufacturers face the expense of either designing the package or adapting a design from an outside firm (which carries its own cost), machining new molds and parts for production lines, and the costs associated with the ancillary items like corrugate trays or boxes, as well as the logistics for filling, storing, and shipping. Spreading those costs over millions of sellable packages is entirely worthwhile, but if an entrepreneur with a fantastic concept in mind is hoping to nudge into the beverage market with a limited production of several thousand cases, the cost associated with custom packaging quickly becomes untenable. And unfortunately, the struggles do not end there.

Every beverage package – be it a can, bottle, box, bag, or pouch – has to be filled somewhere. Contract manufacturers (or fillers) try to meet market needs by being versatile, but often custom packaging will be outside their capability for filling. This means there will often be more change parts, more logistical concerns, and more costs. And just as it was the case with the package manufacturer, the contract manufacturer will also ideally spread his costs across as many units as possible.

Despite the monumental concerns that come with custom packaging, there are still myriad opportunities for a product to stand out, even when filled into a “standard” package. Label and artwork design is at least as important as packaging, and even a top-notch label-design firm will cost far less than designing and implementing a custom package.

Ultimately, a bad beverage cannot be salvaged by a novelty package, but a fantastic beverage can – and often does – transcend the package from whence it came. Consumers may reach for the expensive bottle with the bells and whistles once, but they will reach for the best-tasting beverage at the right price time and time again.

Field Trip: Atherton High School Students Visit Flavorman

Students from Atherton High School got a taste of creative science when they visited Flavorman on January 24th as part of a Global Community and Business Leadership program called The Amazing Global Marketplace.  Twenty-eight students, along with their teachers and program facilitators from Greater Louisville Inc. and Crane House enjoyed a tour of Flavorman’s headquarters and presentations from senior staff members.  The day began with a brief overview and history of the company by Flavorman CEO Marty Snyder.  The Flavorman Team then took the visitors through each stage of the process of developing a custom beverage, demonstrating Flavorman’s daily operations.

Students add color to their soda creations.

Lab Manager Marlena McGuffey gave students a hands-on demonstration of ingredients used in developing energy drinks, encouraging students to see, touch and taste different vitamins, preservatives and sweeteners.  Visitors were able to sample and discuss the differences between citric and malic acid, and experience the different sweetness levels and tastes of organic sugar, refined sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup.  The tour also took the students through packaging and quality control, and gave them a look at Flavorman’s blending operation.

The highlight of the tour was the opportunity for all of the visitors to create their own sodas.  The students were able to create custom colors for their creations and, with the help of the lab team, carbonate and can their very own, unique beverage.  “When I was in school, I would have never dreamed that I would be using my science education in this way,” McGuffey told the students.  “My job gives me the freedom to expand my learning through innovation and creativity, and that’s why I love what I do.”

The Amazing Global Marketplace is an experiential, educational and competitive program which engages high school students and inspires them to pursue an educational pathway for working in international business.  Students spend the semester in a simulated business scenario and are teamed up with an employee-mentor of a real Louisville business that works internationally.  Together, the students and mentor pursue the completion of the assigned project.

The student team that chose Flavorman as their business mentor is working on a scenario that involves a German company wanting Flavorman to create and produce an energy drink for distribution in Germany.  The field trip was designed to give the students a hands-on experience in beverage development and to address the logistics and challenges of doing business internationally.  Other local business mentors include Yum! Brands and Papa John’s.