Kalsec CEO: Antioxidants, transparency and natural ingredients at the heart of innovation

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14 May 2018 --- Founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1958, the “Kalamazoo Spice Extraction Company,” more commonly known as Kalsec, began as a producer and marketer of natural herbs and spices for food manufacturers. Earlier this year, in January 2018, Dr. Scott Nykaza was promoted to CEO of Kalsec. Before joining the company in 1999, Nykaza worked for the DeKalb Seed Company and Monsanto. While at Monsanto he earned his M.B.A. from Michigan State University.

FoodIngredientsFirst recently caught up with Nykaza, who discussed some of the company’s long terms goals, history and how they are responding to the ever-changing needs of the modern consumer. “This year we are celebrating our 60th year in business. We have a long-term vision to remain a private company and be sustainable for 100 years. The ambition of our company is to source and extract 100 percent naturally derived products to fit with the trends that we see most frequently in the food industry such as clean and clear labeling.”

People are more and more interested in naturally sourced ingredients and this falls well into what Kalsec has done for the past 60 years, according to Nykaza. “We are offering naturally sourced, clean ingredients, with transparency from the source and unique processing. With all the above attributes, I think the more consumers appreciate that we do find that to be the case, especially in Europe and the US and even in emerging markets in Asia and across the Middle East,” he says. “The economy is strengthening and there is a growing middle class in key geographies in the Asian market, which is one of the fastest growing markets for Kalsec.”

There are growing numbers of "foodie" consumers in the world that are a lot more exposed to ethnic food, hot and spicy foods with unique flavors and all of this is driven by the social media movement and travel opportunities. Nykaza believes that consumers today are looking for better eating experiences, which are becoming more popular and Kalsec is responding to this by delivering unique flavors and blends that help consumers to discover the experiences that they desire. Meanwhile, plant-based proteins are becoming a more significant part of the trend towards healthy choices and the company is working on making that as palatable an experience for the consumer as possible.

Innovation and R&D
Nykaza also explains that Kalsec is innovating in the area of natural antioxidants. “This concept is heavily based on rosemary and using rosemary as an antioxidant to help with oxidation management,” he says. “We are continually putting rosemary in the marketplace, as a standalone product or with other blends of natural antioxidants to help consumers eliminate some of the synthetic antioxidants as well as finding the right formulations for those tough oxidation issues. It’s not just about putting rosemary in a formulation, but about the dosage levels where you put it.”

“In the case of rosemary, we can strip a lot of the flavor impact of the herb so we can use it as a convenient antioxidant without getting an overwhelming flavor or scent. This can sometimes be preferred for oils and cooking, so you just get the antioxidant activity of the plant,” explains Nykaza.

Green tea is another exciting area that also provides some synergistic effects with rosemary, according to Nykaza. “Especially in the Asian markets, it's gaining momentum and people are familiar with green tea, but they have just started exploring it as an antioxidant. We are getting a lot of interest from companies in developing prototypes and products with them for green tea as an antioxidant,” he notes. 

“We also have a schedule of NPD for natural colors; we are currently working more on blue and green color hues and releases of these colors which comes hand in hand with the all-natural color advancement that a lot of consumers prefer.”
 
Protecting the legacy of Kalsec is part of the company’s 100-year plan, and this begins with the ten-year short-term plan that will shape the company and what Kalsec will be doing, Nykaza tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “In the short-term, we have established four platforms in our R&D efforts that will get 20 percent of our funding from R&D to create long-term opportunities for us. These areas include brewing innovation, green technology, food protection and biotechnology and fermentation in natural settings,” Nykaza states. “People eat every day so making those eating experiences safe, with high-quality ingredients is what we are aiming to do and we feel positive about that space that we are in.”
 
Nowadays, consumers are much more conscious than ever and consuming as many natural ingredients as possible. “We do have a lot of solutions for organic and minimally processed foods and coloring food ingredients. In Asia, much of the population survives on as little as US$2 per day. Having economic opportunities to engage in some of the flavors and quality of products is important when people don’t have as much disposable income as some of the other geographies around the world,” he continues. “So we constantly think about making our offerings more and more attractive, so we can reach those consumers who may not have the ability to buy organic, for example, but want a safe and food healthy choice.”

Nykaza believes that organic and vegan are the fastest growing areas.  “They are quite small,” he claims, “But they are just as important as the other trends. I think that’s why the transparency of ingredients has become more important and then having a supply chain that assures this.”
 
“Kalsec is aligned with UN sustainable development goals, relating to responsible production and consumption so the company utilizes this to make sure people can have confidence in our supply chain. Stringent requirements and global food safety systems have to grow because we have made investments in those areas for the future of the food industry,” he concludes. 

By Elizabeth Green

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