You may have never heard of Beck Flavors, but there is a good chance that if you live in St. Louis, you've tried their products over and over. They might make the caramel in your coffee, the vanilla in your ice cream or the lemon in your seltzer water. But you probably won't see their name printed on the products; their relationships are mostly a secret, thanks to nondisclosure agreements that protect their clients' supply chains.
Beck Flavors is more than 100 years old. The company got its start in 1904 when Jacob Beck owned a soda fountain in East St. Louis. He made vanilla flavoring for the cola he served, and then he started selling it to local businesses. He decided to start his own vanilla flavoring company.
Now, four generations later, Beck Flavors is still in St. Louis – well, Maryland Heights – and still family-run.
"That's obviously really important to us," president Matt Carr says. "We hold our heritage in high respect."
The company works with its clients to create flavors, mostly for beverages, and then manufactures those flavors in its Maryland Heights production facility. Carr says that companies usually have flavor profiles that they know they want to work with, but that Beck Flavors also has recommendations.
First, Beck Flavors likes to get the base beverage the flavor will be added to. Beck Flavors' flavorists and scientists taste the base, understand the nuances of it, and from there can have an idea of the kinds of flavors that will pair well with the it.
And after all these years, the influence of that first vanilla flavoring made by Beck is still there. "We definitely specialize in sweet, not savory," Carr says.
Beck's most popular flavors are driven by the coffee and tea market, so vanilla, French vanilla, caramel and cinnamon tend to be the most in-demand at any given time. "Beck Flavors was at the forefront of the flavored coffee move in the early '80s," Carr says.
In addition to helping design flavors for its clients, Beck Flavors also closely follows trends in the flavor industry and even does some of its own studies on up-and-coming flavors. For example, one of Beck's flavorists has been studying butterfly pea flowers. It is a flower that has a dark purple color, but can change colors when the pH is altered. While it hasn't yet been approved by the FDA yet, Carr says Beck expects it to be, and by being prepared, the company can stay on top of the trend for its clients.
"We can go to our customers proactively," he says.
According to Carr and Beck's marketing director Janie Page, some of the biggest up-and-coming flavors in the beverage market right now include yuzu, a sour, Asian citrus fruit found mainly in Japan, Korea and China, and calamansi, a citrus fruit also referred to as a Philippine lime.
Above all, Beck Flavors is most proud of its work culture, which Carr attributes to its family-first mentality.
"We have very low turnover," Carr says. "I've had a multitude of employees come up to me and say, you know, Beck is the best place to work at, and the reason is that we respect our employees."
Beck Flavors, beckflavors.com