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Firmenich SA: The taste of success

Our senses not only let us navigate the world around us, but open us up to a world of moods, experiences and associations: when we smell a fragrance or taste a particular flavour, we don’t just identity what that scent or taste was – we’re transported by it. Images of foods, thoughts of far-away places, memories of a moment or feeling; we shouldn’t underestimate the impact these senses have on us, or, therefore, the art that goes into creating them.

If we want to talk flavours, we need to talk Firmenich. Firmenich is the largest privately owned Flavour and Fragrance Company in the world – an impressive claim that is made even more notable by the fact that this vast company is still a family-owned business. We spoke with Marco Monteiro, the General Manager of Firmenich Sub Saharan Africa, to learn more about Firmenich as a whole, and to focus in on Marco’s branch of their operations.

Headquartered in Geneva, the Firmenich entity was established in 1895 – as you can imagine, the technology in their laboratories has gone through quite a growth in the 123 years since! As the company describe their own operations, “Led by our passion for taste and smell, we put our creativity and innovation to work every day to delight the senses.” Currently, the company operates in over 60 markets around the globe.

Of these markets, Sub Saharan Africa is a key location, and this is where Marco comes in. Firmenich Sub Saharan Africa was established in 1972, and they are passionate about their work. “We have the best job!”, Marco enthuses. “We work with our food and beverage customers to help them drive consumer preference.”

“At the same time, we work with them to create products that are healthier and more nutritious. We have technologies that allow our customers to reduce or remove sugar, salt, fat and MSG in their products whilst still keeping the great taste. Flavours are just one part of the value we add.”

Health implications are rightly, an ever-increasing concern of monitoring bodies and consumers alike. Not too long ago, sugar-packed, artificially flavoured treats were consumed with gusto, but today, we like to know that the tangy treats we’re enjoying are not only safe, but nutritious. Flavour impact alone doesn’t cut it anymore, and as the champions of taste excellence, Firmenich are staying on top of the game. As the company expands; “Driven by our deep sense of responsibility, we seek to enable solutions that contribute to greater health and nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, while preserving nature’s most precious resources and empowering sustainable livelihoods across our value chain.”

This mention of sustainability shows Firmenich’s wider view on their responsibilities as a company. Along with being attentive to the health of their clients’ consumers, they are also conscious of the impact they have on the world around them – both the global environment, and the daily lives of the communities they operate within. “Being a family-owned business is what drives us to make positive contributions to our communities”, explains Marco. Being a family-owned business has certainly kept the heart beating at the centre of this company, despite its now vast size. “This has always been a priority of ours and this is why sustainability is core to our strategy. We put creativity and science together to address global challenges such as nutrition, health, climate change, hygiene and sanitation.”

To tackle these issues, both for the sake of their clients’ products and their wider corporate responsibility, Firmenich place heavy importance on their R&D department. In fact, they feel this is the key to separating them from their competition: “R&D is one of our strongest differentiators. We have four R&D centres that serve our global business: Geneva in Switzerland, Shanghai in China, Princeton, New Jersey in the U.S.A and Gujarat in India.”

Creating delicious and appealing flavours is a delicate science in itself, but especially when one is working to be not only the safest, but the best: “In making products healthier, we need to assist our customers to remove certain ingredients whilst still make their products taste great.”

“Reflecting our position as an industry leader in innovation, Firmenich has more than 2,900 patents worldwide and we reinvest 10% of our annual revenues back into R&D. Our local solutions and flavour development is done locally in our labs with our clients’ consumers’ taste preference in mind, but the tools and technologies we have at our disposal are backed by this impressive corporate R&D function.”

Globally, this vast operation employs over 7000 team members. As for Marco himself, he has only recently stepped into the GM position Firmenich South Africa. “I have been the General Manager of Firmenich South Africa for 5 months. I began my career at Firmenich just over a year ago as Commercial Director for our Flavors business in South Africa, before taking on the additional responsibilities of General Manager for the business. Prior to Firmenich, I spent 20+ years working in fast-moving consumer goods companies and have been very fortunate to have worked with Southern Africa’s biggest brands.”

With years of experience and a genuine passion for the creative and responsible work the company does, Marco has quickly found his mojo with Firmenich; “Firmenich is family business and the values of the organisation fit well with my own leadership values. We do what is right for the business as a family.”

“I believe that empowering teams and driving the right culture is imperative to success in today’s business world. I challenge my team to debate, argue maturely but challenge the status quo for the betterment of the business. My team doesn’t have to agree with me – that’s the rule.”

His short tie with Firmenich South Africa has already been eventful – in fact, in January 2018, a significant acquisition took place. “Firmenich has recently acquired Flavourome in South Africa. Flavourome has been our exclusive distributor in South Africa since 1998. David Wright, founder and CEO, has been an outstanding partner for Firmenich and has developed a high-performing team who have an intimate knowledge of our offerings. Their track record for providing best-in-class service to local customers will be critical, as we work on growing our business in this strategic market.”

“This acquisition will allow us to have direct access to attractive, local customers in South Africa as well as to acquire a high-quality manufacturing facility that will enable us to service both local and global customers operating in South Africa from a dedicated plant.”

This acquisition will set Firmenich South Africa up for further expansion. “Our main focus for Sub-Saharan Africa is to successfully integrate Flavourome into Firmenich. This adds together two strong sales and technical teams in order to unlock value with our customers for growth in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Marco also hinted that there are other development plans in the works, but wasn’t about to give us a confirmation just yet, besides implying that the company has several irons in the fire. He was able to tease that “Firmenich is a very ambitious company and are always assessing opportunities to grow both organically and inorganically.” We’ll have to watch this space!