The flavor and fragrance industry continues to react to customer demand for natural and organic ingredients in consumer products. However, The Robertet Group – which was founded in 1850 in Grasse, France, and today remains a privately held, independent company – has remained proactively focused on natural ingredients since its founding.
“Major retailers today demand that their suppliers produce products with the most stringent standards for a natural claim, particularly in the areas of sustainability and environmental stewardship,” says Neil Callahan, senior vice president at Robertet Flavors, The Robertet Group’s North American Flavor Division headquarters and manufacturing facility located in Piscataway, N.J.
“In addition, competition for shelf space ensures that suppliers are constantly searching for and adopting new raw material sources and enhanced production technologies that can meet this demand,” Callahan says. “As our core capabilities – and our growth – have been built on natural materials, Robertet is well-positioned for future success.”
As a trusted ingredient supplier to consumer-branded packaged goods companies in the food, beverage, oral care, fine and household fragrance categories, Robertet maintains a presence in more than 50 countries, including raw materials processing and compound production facilities in 18 nations. Ranked eighth in sales in the global flavor and fragrance industry, The Robertet Group specializes in the production of natural extracts and natural isolates from a variety of botanical sources.
Robertet also devotes major research and development efforts in the blending – or compounding – of these proprietary raw materials. These artful compositions must be rigorously tested for effectiveness when combined with other key product ingredients. Once developed, these products are then demonstrated to client companies and their in-house product development teams.
Robertet’s Flavor Division is also focused on how their flavors react with other ingredients, and develops flavor compounds that serve additional functions in the application. “For instance, we have developed flavor compounds that can effectively mask the off-notes that functional ingredients such as vitamins and minerals contribute to the flavor profile, or that can alter the perception of traits such as sweetness or cooling levels,” Callahan notes.
“When we first began operations in 1850, our company was primarily focused on producing essential oils for fragrances. However, as the packaged food industry began to be a dominant force beginning in the 1940s and 1950s, Robertet branched out into flavor ingredients,” Callahan says. “Today, flavor sales contribute significantly to Robertet’s global business.”
North American Operations
After a decade of intense efforts to establish credentials with leading consumer brand companies, The Robertet Group’s U.S. Flavors Division, Robertet Flavors, achieved a sizable sales base in the United States in the early 1980s. In 1998, the company dramatically expanded Robertet Flavors’ U.S. capabilities through the opening of a new, 120,000-square foot, state-of-the art facility in central New Jersey, a key region of flavor industry activity.
“In the last 20 to 25 years, Robertet has grown dramatically, and a lot of that growth has been here in the United States,” Callahan explains.
“This is primarily due to our emphasis on natural ingredients. Growth in the natural flavor business in the United States has far outstripped growth in the artificial flavor market.”
Success in the U.S. market led the company to further investments in their U.S. Flavors Division. In 2009, Robertet Flavors completed a 110,000-square-foot expansion program that increased its flavors facility to 220,000 square feet. The company also launched a 65,000-square-foot dry blending and powder production facility to further enhance Robertet’s leading position in a complementary industry category, powdered ready-to-drink tea blends.
The investment program included the expansion of Robertet’s liquid compounding area. The company now is capable of processing an additional 70,000 gallons of liquid materials. This area includes a number of emulsion, beverage-base blending and bulk storage tanks, which are installed on load cells and have heating and cooling capabilities.
Callahan says this and other corporate investments will help the company investigate new botanical materials it can then incorporate into the development of proprietary flavor compounds. “Our research and development team is constantly investigating new botanical materials,” he adds, “and we possess the state-of-the-art equipment to process those materials to make extractions or distillations, and in some cases, the fermentation technologies to produce specialized raw materials.”
Callahan says these materials help provide the taste modifications Robertet builds into its products. The company partners with farmers and botanists to discover these materials rather than focusing on the development of chemical compounds in a laboratory, which Callahan says is how many other firms in the industry operate.
“Robertet is well-positioned to work with farmers and agricultural partners that grow the plants and botanical materials we need to make these extractions,” he says. “That’s a little unique from other companies in our industry. We’re taking
it a step further – we like to define ourselves as vertically integrated, because we help grow the base materials that we use to pull out ingredients that will be helpful for taste modification.”
This involvement from top to bottom is ingrained in the company’s history, according to Callahan. He says Robertet has long made a practice of working with its crop suppliers to ensure they will be in business for years to come.
“We have a very long history with many of our growers, and long-term contracts that provide them with the financial guarantees that enable them to stay in business,” Callahan says. “We help mature their product and can help with sustainability, as well.”
While consumers are definitely focused on natural flavors, Callahan says Robertet Flavors has seen a particularly increased demand for natural fruit flavors. Over the last three or four years, pomegranate, blueberry, mixed berry and cranberry have been especially popular.
“Those have all been really successful,” Callahan says. “But we also look out for newly introduced fruit varieties or other emerging trends. When we’re out spotting trends, we often look at the culinary area and the restaurant industry, and translate what we see into new flavor variants that can make a positive impact in a wide variety of packaged consumer goods.”
Meanwhile, to meet consumer desires for natural and good-for-you products, Callahan says Robertet Flavors continues to be intensely focused on flavor systems for overall taste modification. These can, for example, help build sweetness levels, block negative bitterness, or control astringency levels. “Our challenge is to deliver great-tasting flavors and flavor systems while working with increasingly complex ingredient statements,” Callahan says.
“A major part of our research and product development in this area involves creating flavors that perform well in good-for-you products with fewer calories,” he adds.
A Natural Future
Robertet Flavors and The Robertet Group’s global affiliates are in an enviable position, as consumers worldwide continue to turn their attention toward healthy and natural products and away from heavily processed and artificial ingredients. Callahan says the industry had its doubts about the popularity of these products, but Robertet Flavors never wavered from this opportunity and is now reaping the benefits from its commitment to natural ingredients.
“About 20 years ago, some thought that the use of these naturals wouldn’t last, due to their limited availability, and at a time when synthetic products were readily available,” Callahan says. “But Robertet Flavors made a judgment call to make deeper investments in natural materials, and it has really paid dividends here in the United States and in many other parts of the world.”