Bury St Edmunds-based Treatt makes life sweeter with the appliance of science

Inside the Treatt fragrance and flavours plant in Bury St Edmunds.

Inside the Treatt fragrance and flavours plant in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Archant

You will not see the company’s name on any labels but, if you regularly shop in a supermarket or drink in a pub or bar, there is a strong probability that you will have consumed ingredients produced by Treatt in Bury St Edmunds. Duncan Brodie paid a visit to see the company’s scientists at work.

Treatt, which began as a trader in essential oils in London in 1886, has been based in Bury St Edmunds since 1971 and is now a leading international supplier of flavour and fragrance ingredients to the the food and beverage industry.

It also produces some fragrances for the personal care market, but the main focus of its research and development just now is very much on beverages, and the fast-growing craft brewing sector in particular.

The company is currently planning to relocate to a new state-of-th-art complex, still within the immediate Bury St Edmunds area but, to my non-scientific eyes, even its existing premises in Northern Way are pretty impressive, as are the people I meet on a tour of the site.

The names of some of the departments are almost enough in themselves to tell the story, such as “pilot lab” and “analytical suite”, although the “tasting room” and the “experiental brewery” do sound a bit more intellectually accessible.

The EADT Top 100 company’s scientific staff work very much at a molecular level. Raw materials such as orange oil (a by-product from the commercial production of orange juice) are broken down into their “component parts” and then re-combined to produce a flavour or fragrance which is both consistent and stable.

This means that the end product purchased by the consumer will always taste or smell the same (even though, in nature, flavours and aromas will clearly vary from plant to plant and from season to season) and will remain in good condition long enough to be commercially viable.

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Its products include the Treattarome range of distillates which, unlike essential oils, are soluable in water.

Daemmon Reeve, Treatt’s chief executive, is in no doubt that the company’s strength lies ultimately in its employees.

“Our people are central to absolutely everything we do,” he says. “Our teams show pride and passion in all they do and that shows through; our customers see that.”

Employee engagement is taken very seriously, he says, as is the need for a good work-life balance. As it happens, while staff are on hand to give me my tour of the site, Daemmon is actually talking to me via Skype as he is taking an opportunity to work from home himself on the morning of my visit.

Treatt is also working to increase its engagement with the local community, to address a perception that it is currently less well known in the area than it should be, given its 45-year history in the town.

And because of the importance it attaches to its staff, and their roots in and around Bury, the company has decided that its new purpose-built home will also be constructed in the area although the exact site has yet to be officially confirmed.

“We are proud to be in Bury and to be one of the larger employers in the town,” says Daemmon. “The work we do in the labs will be very much front and centre of the new facility.”

This investment is possible as a result of the company’s strong market performance, and indeed necessary if it is to continue its growth.

The huge appetite of consumers for innovation in the food and beverage sector is a major driver behind this growth, represening a major opportunity for Treatt, particularly the case in the dynamic craft beer sector.

Treatt has been involved in beverages for many decades but the growing interest in craft beers, which often involve flavours and aromas beyond those provided by the four traditional ingredients of water, malting barley, yeast and hops.

For Treatt, this has ranged from relatively conventional flavours and aromas such as coffee (found naturally in darker malts) and citrus (characteristic of many New World hop varieties) to more exotic variations such as watermelon and cucumber.

Although the company is unable to name most of its clients, for reasons of commercial confidentiality, one project it was happy to be identified with was the creation of a Christmas Pudding Porter by local craft brewer Brewshed as a fund-raiser last year for the Bury-based St Nicholas Hospice – another example of the company’s community enagement.

Treatt is also getting closer to its customers, with its people increasingly working alongside clients’ own in-house teams in developing new products, rather than simply sending samples back and forth.

It is, therefore, very much a provider of bespoke solutions rather than simply a flavour and fragrance “house” supplying standard products.

Another area of opportunity in the beverage sector has been extended by the Government’s recent announcement of a tax on sugar in soft drinks, with Treatt involved in developing products which will enable its clients to achieve the same flavour and mouthfeel in their drinks while reducing the sugar content.

At the end of my visit, I’m put on the spot and given a taste test. It is only a much shortened version of the testing routinely carried out but I manage to score a full three out of three. This doesn’t necessarily make me a “super-taster”, I am told, but it shows at least than I am not a “non-taster”.

Of wider interest, however, is that I then discover that the samples I identified correctly as being sweeter did, in fact, contain no additional sugar. That sounds like good news for soft drinks makers, and for Treatt.