CEO Kenneth P. Manning Makes Sense Out of Sensient Technologies
The company that has maintained the standard in customizing many of the products that have made their way to your home has been on the cutting edge of flavoring and coloring technology for at least a decade now. That might not have been the case if it were not for its visionary CEO, Kenneth P. Manning. Executive Outlook talked with Manning of Sensient Technologies Corporation as he explained the importance and impact his company has had on our everyday lives.
“The company started in 1882,” Manning says. But Sensient was not always in the colors, flavors and fragrances business. What began as a distillery and gin manufacturer later morphed into the food business by producing yeast during Prohibition and then adding bulk cheese, frozen potatoes and other commodity foods to their roster of products. The distillery grew into what became known as Universal Foods Corporation. Manning became CEO in 1996 with a new vision of the company’s worldwide potential. Manning sold off the company’s low growth commodities businesses and then turned around to invest in newer technologies and high-margin businesses through acquisitions in the United States and beyond. As a result, Sensient began its transformation into a major cutting-edge, global company. “When I joined, about 95 percent of employees were American and 95 percent of business was American. The company needed to change in order to survive,” he says. “We needed new markets in terms of products and geography.”
And so Manning set out to redefine the company. After over 20 acquisitions and a complete makeover, he decided the name needed to change. “We were much more than Universal Foods,” he says. “We had new technologies and new products that no longer reflected our name.” Unlike the former name, this new name is indicative of the company’s mission. A contraction of “sensory,” “ingredient” and “technology,” Sensient Technologies has now become a leading manufacturer, supplier and marketer of flavors, fragrances and colors used to make a diverse variety of foods and beverages, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, home and personal care products, specialty printing and imaging products, computer imaging and industrial colors. Manning says, “When we changed our name to Sensient in 2000, we also changed the names of all our business units, including our acquisitions. We have now brought Sensient together under one brand that communicates what we do and reinforces our commitment to a strong unified company.”
Their success is no mere name change. Manning says they stay close to the customer. “We work with our customers to produce the customized formulations they need. We partner with key customers to help them extend their established brands and create entirely new products. Our research is done in conjunction with marketing and manufacturing with the customer relationship in mind. We have over 30 state-of-the-art R&D centers around the world. We’re one of the only flavor companies that is also a color company so we can provide customers with a complete flavor and color package for their products. We are also active in many non-food areas unlike our competitors. We independently develop product systems that offer customers an advantage in the marketplace or provide new manufacturing efficiencies.” Sensient’s customers are major name-brand and international manufacturers from all over the world.
Under Manning’s direction, Sensient has since increased its sales to 60 percent outside of the U.S. In fact, Manning states, “We now sell to 150 different countries.” Not only have international sales increased dramatically but so has the company’s international presence. Sensient has grown to 70 locations in some 30 countries with a work force of 3,600 employees. Manning has diversified the company’s overseas business from western Europe, with a current focus on eastern Europe, China and Brazil.
For nearly all products, appearance, taste and smell determine success in the marketplace. By providing a broad spectrum of quality colors, flavors and bionutrients, Sensient helps its customers create and enhance successful foods and beverages.
Sensient may be most known for its flavors and colors for foods and beverages. These were, in fact, the first areas that Manning looked at when making new acquisitions to revitalize the company. The Sensient Color Group now provides a full spectrum of colors for the confectionery, beverage, processed foods, bakery and dairy industries. The Sensient Flavors and Fragrances Group supplies custom-designed flavors and flavoring systems to the food, beverage, bakery, dairy and confectionery industries in addition to providing dehydrated vegetable products and flavor systems to the food industry. “Clearly, the food and beverage industry is our biggest customer. The majority of our business is in food and beverages,” Manning says. He lists several promising new geographic sectors. “Eastern Europe is a very interesting market, especially for natural colors. They are looking for products like ours. China is another emerging market for us. Chinese consumers are beginning to demand packaged foods and other products for which we can supply flavors and colors.” But he also is enthusiastic about Sensient’s products for nonfood industries. “Our inkjet inks for printers and our natural and synthetic colors and coatings for textiles, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries are all important markets for us.”
The Sensient Pharmaceutical Technologies unit works to enhance customers’ products through the use of colors and coatings, offering the broadest range of natural and synthetic colors available for pharmaceutical use. This unit colors and coats pharmaceuticals to meet product needs such as time-release, syrup flavors, easier to swallow coating and identifying colors. Sensient Cosmetic Technologies supplies the cosmetics industry with colors and high-tech chemistry used in make-up, hair and skin care products, toiletries and fine fragrances. Sunscreens, perfumes, foundation – ingredients in all these products stem from Sensient.
Sensient also makes its way into the home with formulations and fragrances for personal and home care products and into the workplace with inkjet and specialty inks. Shampoos, air fresheners and that cartridge of ink for your printer more than likely include Sensient products. Other units include display imaging (computer monitors and cell phone screens) and industrial colors (for leather products, automotive parts, dyes and much more). “We understand that every project is unique and every customer’s needs are different. That’s why we offer customized services to develop the best product for our customers,” says Manning.
Manning goes against the grain in this economic climate. Rather than layoffs, he is discussing adding staff. “In 2009, we plan to hire 35 new salespeople,” he says. Sensient’s diverse sales staff includes people from all over the world, and Manning interviews every salesperson himself. “We have a strong sales force. Our people stay with the company,” he says. “ We promote from within and we take care of our people. One person who joined our company about 22 years ago as an organic chemist decided to become a sales person and recently graduated from our sales training program. We have found that in-depth product knowledge is a tremendous asset in sales.”
Sensient had a record year in 2008 with almost $1.3 billion in sales and Manning says the company is on track for another record year for profits. Despite the economic downturn, the food and beverage business seems to stay steady. With the downturn, people are spending less in restaurants and more on quality food and cooking at home. “The trend is also away from name brand products to generic and store brands now,” he says, but, interestingly, “in bad times, people will eat premium ice cream. When larger luxuries are unattainable, people feel they can treat themselves to the smaller luxuries.”
Sensient has state-of-the-art technologies and plans to remain at the cutting edge. “We have developed high-end micro-emulsion technologies,” explains Manning. “It allows us to provide our customer with a more stable product, in the natural product area, and the delivery system can encompass a broader range of media. We are the leaders in a whole group of extraction technologies from simple subcritical extraction technology to supercritical CO2 extractions. Our encapsulation technology is used in our cosmetic products area, where our delivery system turns powders into creams when the consumer applies the product. Our savory flavors, with top notes used in soups and gravies, are among the most advanced in the industry.”
In addition to the technology aspect, Manning also is enthusiastic about his team and its growth: “We are continuing expansion of the sales force and we are growing the company.” In terms of products, Manning said that Sensient is continuing its focus on health and wellness trends, including natural colors, where Sensient is a leading innovator. Sensient is planning further geographic expansion as well. Sensient is already in China, Eastern Europe and Latin America and is looking to strengthen its presence in those countries. In addition, Sensient is planning to extend its distribution system with new sales and product support locations in Scandinavia, the Baltics and other eastern European countries.
Clearly the future is bright for Sensient. Manning’s innovative thinking and assertive approach have made this company into a global force. Going forward, Manning plans to continue to implement his long-term growth strategy, which has been a proven success.