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Coalescence LLC: Custom Blending Healthy Spices and Flavors
In February 2005, Angela N. Cauley combined her expertise in food science and technology with the agribusiness and applied economics skills of her husband, Ian Y. Blount, to co-found Coalescence, LLC (Coalescence), a custom dry ingredient blending and packaging company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Coalescence specializes in seasoning blends, batters, breadings, marinades, rubs, and nutritional and fortification blends.
“We have a couple different platforms. We try to produce different seasoning blends and different products that can actually help to address global health concerns, so we offer products that are either natural or reduced in sodium, and have some health benefit to the consumer,” Cauley explains.
Blount is currently the company’s senior vice president, and Cauley was its president until those reins were passed to Theresa E. Potter. Cauley remains wholly involved in the company, however, now in the role of CEO. The trio, along with other members of Coalescence’s executive team (Larry E. Lee, CFO, and Craig B. Thompson, VP/General Manager) has positioned Coalescence as a strong presence within its diverse markets.
“We sell primarily to companies that produce vegetarian items like burgers, toppings and dressings, as well as an Asian company that produces natural eggrolls and various Polynesian cuisines. Coalescence’s R&D team of scientists help our customers reduce sodium, as well as have natural and/or cleaner label declarations,” Cauley shares. “We also produce vitamin premixes for companies primarily in the beverage industry, who manufacture energy drinks and caffeinated water blends. We also produce natural marinades for clients that produce various poultry products.”
The company has a number of well-known clients, including Wendy’s, whose dressings contain some of Coalescence’s ingredients. Other high-profile clients include Kellogg’s Morningstar Farms and Tyson Foods. The company’s annual revenue ranges between $20 million and $30 million.
Coalescence’s 45 employees work diligently to ensure each product meets client’s specifications. “Most of our products are customized and proprietary to each client that we work with,” Cauley explains of the company’s capabilities. “Our position in the heart of the Midwest, allows us to ship to any location in the U.S. in three days or less. Although we do not own our own fleet of trucks, we work with clients to enhance their supply chain. We work with their logistics department to provide cost effective transportation options. If we see that they are shipping products from South Carolina to a distribution center here in Columbus, we’ll coordinate with them to see if they can backhaul our products.”
With its products reaching across the country, Coalescence actually saw an upswing in its market as a result of the economic recession. “With the economy taking a downturn, people didn’t necessarily have the income to take their families out to restaurants. So, we were actually selling a lot more. People were buying more of the products for which we were part of the supply chain, so that was very helpful,” Cauley says. “In addition, we have an excellent advisory board that meets on a quarterly basis, including a president and COO of a food company, a vice president of a bank, a professor at The Ohio State University who specializes in Lean Six Sigma manufacturing, an attorney, who is also an accountant, an entrepreneur who is a successful business person, a former president of a consumer packaged goods sales and marketing company, and a former chairman and founder of a bank.”
Because the company’s products are customized for each customer, Coalescence’s supply chain must be perfect. “A lot of times we can use only certain suppliers to meet our end clients’ needs. Our clients are deeply embedded in the supply chain, from the farmers who are actually producing raw materials to making sure products are coming only from companies they have approved,” Cauley explains. “In some cases, we can give advice and will use our internal auditing process where we will look at the products’ country of origin, as well as kosher or organic practices and certification, and make sure the plant is properly audited. We have a process in place to make sure that we can use a supplier before we make a recommendation to the client and say, ‘You may want to consider taking a look at this supplier as a secondary source.’”
In order to keep its carbon footprint low, Coalescence makes use of Ohio suppliers whenever possible. “We do bring spices over from Maryland, but a lot of our ingredients are from the state of Ohio,” Cauley says.
Growing Healthy Options
Over the past five years Coalescence has been continuously growing, while reinforcing its commitment to quality control. “In 2009, we had a considerable amount of growth – from $2.5 million to $21 million in sales. That in itself was an interesting experience, because during that time we moved from a 7,500-square foot facility, where we had been for our first three years, and transitioned to a 35,000-square foot building,” Cauley remembers. “We also went from one allergen in our plant to four, and when you start working with different allergens, you have to be very respectful that your storing processes, testing, cleaning and sanitation processes prevent cross-contamination. So, the fact that we could take on a significant amount of business, where we went from producing approximately 40,000 pounds in a week to averaging 220,000 pounds per week is impressive.” Indeed, HACCP & Food Defense Plans have been implemented, alongside the allergen and sanitation plans.
On November 3, 2010, Coalescence completed its first British Retail Consortium (BRC) audit, a Global Standard for Food Safety. The company’s preliminary BRC audit results were extremely favorable, as Coalescence received a “Provisional Grade A.” The current grade is provisional until the official governing body issues an actual certificate.
Coalescence has three blending rooms with double ribbon blenders ranging from 40 cubic feet to 100 cubic feet. “And with that, we’re able to produce blends in small quantities and large quantities. Another one of our niches comes from larger companies that do not want to touch any business unless they’re able to purchase two to four truckloads per month from them,” Cauley says. “For us, we have quick turnaround, are flexible and produce large or smaller amounts for clients.”
With this niche solidified, Coalescence is looking to build a reputation in other specialized areas of the industry. “The big push is really looking at reduced-sodium applications across the board because people do not always make the healthiest of eating choices for themselves, so if we work with companies that are feeding the world, we can actually develop systems that are going to help. That’s the direction we’re going in. We have two scientists on our staff and culinary chefs as well,” Cauley says. “We have people that can actually design products to taste good and who can mass produce products and then, people who can sell them. So, we use a two-prong approach in R&D to create good quality products.”
Even though Cauley has Coalescence’s next steps planned, there are many things that keep her awake at night. “It’s interesting going from working for someone else to being responsible for others. In terms of strategy, I worry about making sure we have money to grow, as well as the economic conditions. The biggest hurdle is funding any business you have, and being smart about utilizing resources that you have,” Cauley advises. “We want to make sure that we have enough business to support the people working with us. In 2005 it was four people, and now we’re about 45 people, and they have families depending on us, and we have supporting companies that do sanitation for us, so it’s not only the people who work here, but the auxiliary companies as well.”
Cauley sees big things for her company’s future, despite the recession. “We’re optimistic and hoping things will turn around, but one of the great things in the food industry is that no matter what the economic conditions, people have to eat. If they’re happy or sad, people keep eating. We need food to sustain life, so I think we’re in the right industry,” she says.
Looking into the future, “we really want to focus on expanding our brand with healthier lines and ethnic products for Hispanic, African-American and Asian communities. In addition, we’re also expanding into culinary items like mashed potatoes and sauces,” Cauley says.
Considering its place in the food industry, Coalescence is poised for continuous growth as it innovates further savory blends and food enhancements. Cauley notes of the company’s future opportunities that “the sky is the limit.” Continuing to expand its role of promoting flavorful, nutritious solutions through blending food science and the culinary arts, Coalescence LLC has good reason to be optimistic.