Mizkan Americas Inc.: Bringing Flavor to Life

Mizkan Americas Inc. (Mizkan) is the product of over 200 years of Japanese traditions and an unwavering commitment to challenging the status quo. As the American division of the global Mizkan Group Corporation, Mizkan upholds the highest standards for quality and food safety, while investing internally to develop innovative products that bring flavors to life.

The Nakano family founded Mizkan in 1981, but its parent company’s origins stretch back to the 19th century when Matazaemon Nakano began producing rice vinegar using the by-products of the sake industry. Similarly, Mizkan’s primary focus is to be the pre-eminent manufacturer and marketer of specialty vinegars, mustards, cooking wines, marinades, wine reductions, salted spirits, Asian sauces and dressings, and a variety of other liquid condiments in both branded and private-label retail formats.

Mizkan has similar product offerings that sell across the foodservice and food ingredient (industrial) classes of trade that are featured in restaurants and as ingredients in numerous regional and nationally branded product lines. Mizkan’s consumer brands include World Harbors marinades, Holland House cooking wines and wine vinegars, Barengo Balsamic vinegar, Mitsukan sauces and seasonings, Angostura bitters and cocktail mixers and the product that started it all: Nakano rice vinegars.

Over the years, though, Mizkan expanded and broadened its focus to incorporate a multiplicity of products and flavor profiles ranging from traditional to contemporary. Mizkan also acquired Border Foods Inc., effectively becoming the largest processor of jalapeños, green chilies and tomatillo peppers in the U.S. and the most established producer of enchilada sauces in the world.

Mizkan produces its variety of products from a network of 15 plants across the U.S., managing core operations from headquarters in Mt. Prospect, Ill. Many of Mizkan’s products are variations on the company’s biggest hits from overseas, but the privately owned company has always had the ability to tailor its products for the North American market. The uniting factor in all Mizkan products is the company’s pledge to consistently produce the highest quality products and adhering to the strictest food safety standards. The company’s mark features three bars, representing flavor, aroma, and consistency, with a circle representing the perfect balance of these characteristics in making quality liquid condiments.

A Contrary Approach

“In Japan, food is produced to an almost pharmaceutical level of quality, and the care and supervision we give all of our products reflects that,” expands Craig Smith, president and CEO in charge of North American operations. Smith joined Mizkan in 2001 and has helped steer the company through some of its most ambitious periods of growth by taking a decidedly unusual approach. Whereas many companies continue to consolidate operations under one roof, Mizkan maintains multiple plants scattered across the country. This decentralization not only saves our customers on the cost of freight, but it also ensures the Mizkan team can react to customers’ needs locally.

In fact, when Smith joined Mizkan, the company actually increased its staff by about 15 percent with sterling results, according to Smith. “We tend to take a contrary approach,” admits Smith. “When the economy slid in 2008, we decided not to waste a perfectly good recession. We decided to invest and get ahead instead of just holding on because how well can you run if you’re looking over your shoulder?”

Investing Internally

One project involved the total revitalization of the bottling facilities at one of Mizkan’s New York plants. The new state-of-the-art system will ensure the plant’s continued operation at Mizkan’s high standards for years to come, especially once the company’s other modernization projects for the plant are completed.

Similarly, Mizkan invested in a new research-and-development facility in Florida to drive the company’s product development efforts. “It’s our intention to really increase our research-and-development capabilities and launch far more new products than ever before,” adds Smith.

El Diablo is one of Mizkan’s newest product lines, which hit shelves in 2012. The product builds upon Mizkan’s strengths in vinegars and mustard products combined with the addition of Border Foods’ strength in spices to deliver a macho mustard that packs serious heat. El Diablo is available in six different favors, ranging from the sweet and tangy mango variety to the full-frontal assault of habanero peppers.

In the past few years Mizkan has been well positioned to find growth as sales of Asian, Latino and Hispanic food products have taken off. Even so, Mizkan has never been the kind of company that sits still and an onslaught of new products are already in the pipeline. “Mizkan has expanded beyond its core mustard and vinegar business very slowly, though, because we focus on doing only what we do better than anybody else,” asserts Smith.

Vinegar Never Tasted So Sweet

Quality and consistency are the cornerstones of Mizkan’s operational philosophy and the company only pursues growth with the help of reliable vendors, suppliers, and employees. Mizkan tends to work with the same set of suppliers to eliminate any chance of variability in its quality.

Likewise, Mizkan invests heavily in the capabilities of its employees to ensure clients receive orders in a timely fashion, as ordered and for the right price. The Mizkan team reviews its perfect order completion rate daily to identify areas of improvement, which has led the team to maintain a rate above 99 percent, according to Smith.

“The key is creating a culture of reward rather than blame,” expands Smith. “I always stress that there is no one mistake an employee can make that can’t be fixed, if it can be caught immediately. It’s just a question of maintaining open communication, alerting the right people and moving forward.”

As it further diversifies its product lines, Mizkan Americas Inc. will apply its hard-work ethic, transparency and the dedication of its employees to further propel the company to the head of the premium condiment pack.