For some, the names of AHD International LLC’s offerings may not be immediately familiar, but the final products that they are used in are quite common and easily recognizable. Based in Atlanta, the company is a natural ingredient supplier that is on the “cutting edge” of the food and beverage marketplace, says Steve Gallo, general manager of AHD’s food and beverage ingredient division.
For instance, the company was one of the first firms to market with imported, natural supplements such as chondroitin and SAMe. Today, “We also have [functional fibers and fruit extracts that] are ahead of the curve,” Gallo explains.
Founders John Alkire and Ray Donato started the company in 1998. At the time, both men were ahead of the industry in their thinking, Gallo says. “They saw [potential in] global supply for supplements and functional foods and beverages before the market really boomed about 12 years ago,” he says.
Today, AHD supplies raw materials to more than 650 customers for diverse applications, such as foods and beverages, dietary supplements, cosmetics and pet products. Gallo says the firm was one of the first to introduce certain products to North America.
Gallo has been with AHD for just under three years and is an 18-year veteran of the food and consumer packaged goods industry. He was drawn to AHD because of its entrepreneurial environment. “It seemed a natural [fit],” he says.
“The demand by traditional food and beverage companies for natural and more nutritious solutions was something I saw and agreed with,” Gallo says. “John and I saw an opportunity to capitalize on our experience with Nutraceutical raw materials and build a food division here.”
Under his leadership, the company has formed partnerships with manufacturers outside of the United States. “We’re finding new plant-based ingredients in other parts of the world,” he says. “I would say that’s an advantage for us as a supplier here in North America.”
“Food manufacturers are looking for turnkey suppliers who can manage inventory, traceability, currency exchange, regulatory, logistics and quality on these value-added raw materials,” he says. “These are our strengths.”
For instance, AHD has partnered with the Tokyo-based Shimizu Corp. to distribute LuraLean™, a plant fiber that can be used in beverages, baked goods, meat, sauces and pasta. The product is extracted from a konjac root, manufactured in Taiwan, swells 200 times in water and was recently affirmed by the prestigious European Food Safety Authority regarding clinical health claims related to satiety and body weight reduction. “That’s an exciting ingredient for us,” Gallo says. “[We have a] unique, very efficient supply chain … to get it over here in bulk.”
The company also is distributing inulin, a 100 percent natural, soluble dietary fiber that is vegan-friendly and grown in Mexico. Gallo adds that the product is more efficient, pleasant-tasting and water soluble than some of its competitors’ products.
Gallo also names the company’s LuraVida™ fruit extracts, Spray dried fruit powders like lemon, mango and blueberry that are imported from both Mexico and Canada. Very rarely within this business, Gallo says, do the ingredients offer potential cost savings to both the food manufacturer and a “greener” solution while simultaneously filling several of the qualifications for a more healthy product, including being “natural” and “clinically proven” to be better for consumers.
“That is what is fun about marketing both our LuraVida extracts and our LuraLean line of konjac glucomannan fibers right now,” Gallo declares. “They do that.”
AHD is continuing to look for new ways to cope with the economic downturn, Gallo says. Manufacturers are lean right now and R&D resources and testing time on production lines for new products continue to be a premium for the firm’s customers.
“We continue to look for ways to efficiently use our own resources to support their R&D as well as helping manufacturers to launch value-added products, increase yields, improve product shelf life, clean up their labels and to improve logistics,” he says.