Seasoning manufacturing company to get mixing in Hampstead
By By Krishana Davis and Times Staff Writer
Aug 31, 2014 at 2:51 AM
OWINGS MILLS — Walking into the manufacturing plant at the Fuchs North America facility, your nostrils will instantly be filled with the rich aromas of cinnamon, black pepper, and other herbs and spices.
Fuchs is a global leader in the food industry, helping restaurants and food service companies develop and manufacture tailored, custom spices to top some of your favorite dishes, snack foods and, even, sauces.
The company operates nine plants worldwide in the U.S., Europe, China and Brazil. The U.S. side of the company is housed in plants in North Dakota and Owings Mills, which will be moving to Hampstead.
Fuchs North America has a long history in Maryland.
German-based Fuchs purchased Baltimore Spice Inc. in 1990. Baltimore Spice was founded in 1939 by German immigrant Gustav Brunn, who created Old Bay Seasoning. The company moved from a downtown Baltimore location to Reisterstown Road in 1959 and expanded 20 years later.
In 1990, then-owner Hanson Industries sold the Reisterstown operation to Fuchs and the well-known Old Bay formula to McCormick and Co.
The U.S. arm of Fuchs no longer produces or manufactures any personal retail seasonings. Instead, it works with restaurants and food companies to develop seasoning to delight the taste buds of their clientele.
With more than 50 percent growth in sales in the last decade, according to CEO Dan Cooper, the company has now outgrown its Owings Mills facility and has set its sights on Carroll County.
"We're at the point where we are running out of capacity," said Cooper. "Our primary goal [for relocating] is to expand our capacity of the company and design a factory that is more conducive."
In Maryland, the company owns an 80,000-square-foot property in Owings Mills — where development, manufacturing and distribution occurs — and leases another 75,000-square-foot facility for storage.
Fuchs is consolidating the two Baltimore County locations in moving to a new, larger facility on a 20-acre property in the North Carroll Business Park in Hampstead.
The new facility — scheduled to break ground in early 2015, weather permitting — will be a state-of-the-art 200,000-square-foot building to accommodate the latest innovations in development, manufacturing and shipping, Cooper said.
Cooper said he expects the new plant to be up and running by the first quarter of 2016.
Collaboration will be a big part of the new facility, said Patrick Laughlin, director of marketing and project management.
"We imagine a space where employees can get together, and mingle and talk," Laughlin said. "[The current facility] was built in a different time in the 1950s and 1960s. We are looking to foster innovation and collaboration where employees can just pull out a white board or a LED monitor."
Cooper has also said that he plans to hire locally as the company expands.
According to Cooper, Carroll County was geographically a good location for the new facility. He said it's not too far from the current location in Owings Mills, meaning current employees will not have a terribly long commute.
But for employees who are not willing to make the trip, Cooper said, he is enthusiastic about seeking out Carroll area residents to fill those voids.
Fuchs' relocation to Carroll County came mostly because the company was courted by members of the local business community.
"Carroll County was very proactive in attracting our business and worked very hard to work with us on relocating," Cooper said.
Hampstead is nestled right beside the bypass, Md. 30, making it accessible to Baltimore County, he said.
The local business development group was also proactive in helping Fuchs identify and expedite the process for permitting, Cooper said.
What are they eating?
Almost everything that is created at Fuchs starts in the research and development department.
The research team essentially uses forecasting companies, such as Information Resource Inc., to determine what's hot in the restaurant industry or what's coming down the pipeline as the next big ingredient or taste.
Most seasoning trends start at restaurants from fine dining establishments, independent restaurants or a chef looking to make a name for themselves, Laughlin said. But researchers also care a lot about consumer data, he said, tracking what's selling in supermarkets.
"We don't do primary research, aside from some surveys, but we grab data and analyze it," he said. "We always have to have our pulse on what's going on."
Sometimes, a client — which can range from a restaurant company, snack company or retail food line — will come to Fuchs with an idea for a new taste or flavor they want to incorporate, Laughlin said.
As technology continues to advance, Laughlin said researchers will also take to social media to see what seasonings customers are buzzing about.
Sometimes the next trend is a seasoning, such as chipotle, which has been incorporated into everything from chicken to chip flavors. But other times it's a base, which a seasoning goes on.
"Corn bread is becoming a big thing," Laughlin said. "It's a Southern cuisine that's making its way northern. I mean, you are seeing Corn bread croutons."
Fuchs might help a company develop a special taste for its Corn bread if it decides to follow that trend.
According to Laughlin, a taste trend is usually measured by consistent quarters of growth. Often, a seasoning cycle can last four or five years, he said, but sometimes customers continue to buy.
Currently, Fuchs has been pushing a lot of its clients to ethnic-inspired flavors from Africa, Malaysia, Pakistan, Peru and Laos.
What the customers want
Once a client decides what new flavor they want, Fuchs scientists head to the kitchen test area to bake or cook up the perfect version of the new taste.
The test area has a fully functional stove and burners, blenders, mixers, measuring cups and spoons, bread crumbs, vanilla extract, chocolate, and a host of other things needed to make the perfect flavor.
The test area will be expanded in the new facility and expanded with options to marinate meat and replicate how clients would use the seasonings Fuchs creates, Laughlin said.
A team of six scientists and two technicians typically spends about three to five days creating the new ingredient, said Helga Nelson, director of research and development.
But often, a client isn't quite satisfied with the initial version of the ingredient, and scientists can spend months perfecting the taste, she said.
"It really depends on how involved the client is," Nelson said. "We can develop in three to four days, but often bigger customers take longer at making their final decisions."
All of the scientists have backgrounds in nutrition, food science or biology, depending on their role, Laughlin said. Fuchs also has a head chef on staff who works with the scientists.
In the kitchen, Fuchs staff often recreate the food the client will be using the seasoning on. If a client is putting a new African barbecue sauce on chicken, the scientist will make the chicken the way it is made in the restaurant with the new sauce on site.
How it gets made
Once a new ingredient gets the OK from a client, it's mass manufactured at the facility.
The shipping area, full of an aroma of strong ingredients, receives daily shipments from countries all over the globe.
Burlap sacks full of raw ingredients such as cinnamon, black pepper, oregano and allspice are piled up human height along the space.
Though spices are imported from all over the world, the seasonings are being manufactured and produced in the United States, something Laughlin said shows that manufacturing still exists here.
When some of the spicier ingredients are being used, such as jalapeño, workers typically wear face masks to keep their airways from getting irritated during inhalation, said Mark Richardson, quality assurance manager.
About 100 employees work on the manufacturing and production side of the system.
The raw ingredients are hoisted onto a metal platform and dumped into a milling machine, said Richardson.
There are three silos in the Owings Mills facility: One grinds only cinnamon, one only black pepper and the third rotates between other spices and herbs.
Cinnamon, for example, is shipped as cinnamon chips stripped from bark, Richardson said. Through the milling processes, the cinnamon is mixed with an oil to decrease the amount of dust, and is ground down to fine particles. A screen separates the products for size.
A portion of the ground processed ingredients are sold individually to spice companies for retail sale, and others make it into the individualized ingredients for clients, said Richardson.
The ingredients go through tests in three labs in the facility — physical, chemical and microbial — to test for moisture content, visual appearance and bacteria, among other things.
The ground ingredients are then moved to the mixing center, where they are added in a specified order alongside other cooking ingredients such as soy oil and liquid flavors to create the specific seasoning, Richardson said.
Scientists will often come down and inspect the first batches of the seasoning to ensure it matches in quality, taste and color with what was created and approved in the lab, he said.