Why do some foods just taste so darn good? How can a packaged granola bar give off a hint of cherry, or clear water have a burst of refreshing citrus with each sip? Flavor is fickle and elusive. But a Benicia Industrial Park entrepreneur is unlocking the mystery. A former racecar driver, at age 70, has launched Flavor Insights, a firm that’s on the cutting edge of flavor innovation and product development.
Flavor Insights’ state-of-the-art production facility on Industrial Way is the brainchild of Greg Pickett and his team, who launched the game-changing performance protein drink Muscle Milk that stands out in the massive beverage industry for its great taste. More than two years in the making, the company is now fully operational with clients in sports nutrition, functional beverages, coffee, enhanced water, nutraceuticals and other products. Already they are creating a buzz in the food manufacturing industry. “We’ve been approached by many different customers. We get requests for natural, artificial and organic flavors,” said Nikki Brown, Pickett’s daughter and the firm’s CEO.
Pickett and his team first settled in Benicia with CytoSport, drawn to the industrial park’s competitive rates and the ease in working with the city, Brown said. After selling CytoSport to Hormel in 2014, Pickett had no intention of slowing down. In 2013 Goldman Sachs named him one of the Top 100 US Entrepreneurs. After the sale, he renovated the Industrial Way space and directed his passion to his long-time interest of creating his own flavor house and a tasty library of organic and natural flavors, plus other flavors that are blends of the artificial and natural. It was a good progression as he was involved in the R&D end of CytoSport, Brown said. “He’s a very energetic and passionate guy. He has set forth an exciting vision here and he’s intimately involved in the flavor development process,” she said.
Brown is not the only family member involved in the company. Pickett’s son Michael heads up customer service, and other family members, along with former CytoSport employees, work there too. “My dad likes to say he’s got his band back together,” Brown said. Of the Pickett family members, city economic development contractor Karen Majors said they “are true California entrepreneurs. They don’t just go off and retire. They think of new businesses.” The city’s economic development department is assisting them in securing California Competes tax credits that will free up funds to invest in equipment and R&D. Majors added that the company is well positioned to be a major player in responding to changes and demands in product flavors and ingredients, a new movement in the food industry.
One of the few flavor businesses in the Bay Area, Flavor Insights uses a unique spray process that helps protect the nutritional value of the flavor source, Brown said. That is a clear advantage in today’s market in which customers clamor for natural and organic ingredients in their food. According to Research and Markets Reports, the global markets for flavors and fragrances are predicted to reach $37 billion in the next four years, up $10 billion from 2015. Within its 1,100,000-square foot facility, Flavor Insights produces flavors in three different forms – powder, liquid and spray dry. It now has more than 100 flavors in its library, and more flavors added every day—flavors can also be made to order, Brown said.
The company’s focus on natural and organic flavors, and environmentally friendly practices and clean technology, dovetails into the city’s goals and priorities. One practice involves flushing out equipment with extremely hot water, eliminating the need for more caustic measures and materials, said Brown. “We’re close to a waterway. We want to eliminate any chance of chemicals seeping into the waterway,” she added. Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said she’s excited about Flavor Insights’ presence in Benicia. She said environmentally friendly businesses are not only good for the planet, but good for the economy. “One-third of the jobs in the state are in clean tech. They know the public wants it. This is the right direction. Businesses know that the city of Benicia put out a green welcome mat a long time ago. We’re receptive and welcoming to these kinds of businesses.