HAMILTON, Ohio -- In 1999, Dan Wampler took a risk, deciding to step off his career path at a major flavorings company in Cincinnati to start his own business.
Today, Sensus LLC in Hamilton, Ohio, has 44 employees, a newly expanded 70,000-square-foot facility, $12 million in capital equipment investment, and, in the past year, has begun exporting product to China, Japan and the European Union. It has become one of the largest natural product extraction companies in the United States.
Sensus, whose corporate maxim is "Nature created it. We captured it," produces natural concentrated flavor ingredients for the beverage, food and flavor industries. The Ohio facility offers ingredients and concentrates from coffee beans, tea leaves, and botanical and vegetable products; another facility operated in conjunction with Morning Star Packing Company in Los Banos, Calif., provides similar products extracted from tomatoes and herbs.
Although Sensus began shipping internationally just last year, exports already account for 10 percent of the business, Wampler said.
Wampler credits the success and growth of his company to the assistance he received from Ohio State University's Wilbur Gould Food Industries Center. Part of Ohio State University Extension, the Food Industries Center focuses on providing start-up facilities, research and development assistance, and technical support to food companies throughout the state.
Wampler, who earned his bachelor's degree in food processing in 1980 and his Ph.D. in food technology in 1983, both at Ohio State, knew that the resources available at the Food Industries Center would be just what he needed.
"I was able to set up my proprietary equipment in the corner of the pilot plant in the basement of Howlett Hall (on the Columbus campus), and got it up and running very quickly because all of the utilities and ancillary equipment were already there," he said.
Both start-up companies and established businesses that need pilot-plant-size equipment to test new products find the center valuable, said Valente Alvarez, professor of food science and technology at Ohio State, OSU Extension specialist, and director of the Food Industries Center. In 2010, the center assisted 50 Ohio companies, he said.
"Primarily they make use of our equipment; some need additional research and development or technical support," Alvarez said. The facilities include commercial-style mills, dryers, extruders, canning and retorting equipment for processing involving cans, jars, pouches for fruits, vegetables, cereal goods and snacks. "Sauces and salsas are also big," Alvarez said.
Research on new product development and food sensory studies are also available for industry and entrepreneurs.
In addition to the pilot plant facilities, sensory analysis, and research and development services, the Food Industries Center provides workshops for industry personnel. These one- to four-day courses are taught on Ohio State’s Columbus campus but some can be arranged to be offered on-site, Alvarez said. Courses scheduled annually are the Better Process Control School; Food Safety and GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices); Introduction to HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points); Advanced CIP (Clean in Place) Cleaning and Sanitation; Total Quality Management (in collaboration with the Snack Food Association); and Laboratory Methods Workshop (in collaboration with Quality Checkd).
The Better Process Control School, a four-day course, has been offered each spring for 40 years and this year drew 90 participants from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Texas. The same course offered in Spanish in June attracts participants from Central and South America and as far away as Spain.
Without the Food Industries Center, Wampler said he would have had to hunt down a similar facility or rent space and purchase additional equipment -- a cost-prohibitive notion. Besides, the expertise available through the center is invaluable, he said.
"Without the resources at Ohio State, entrepreneurs like me could easily be precluded from ever getting off the ground," Wampler said. "Instead of an investment of up to a quarter-million dollars just to test the feasibility of an idea, in three days, you can be up and running."
For more information on the Food Industries Center, see http://foodindustries.osu.edu.
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