Innovation key to success for Suffolk flavours and fragrances firm Omega Ingredients

Omega Ingredients founder Steve Pearce

Omega Ingredients founder Steve Pearce - Credit: Archant

Steven Pearce, founder and managing director of flavour and fragrance solutions specialist Omega Ingredients, is in no doubt about the need for a company’s culture to embrace and encourage innovation.

EADT Business Awards finalists - Omega Ingredients (Steve Pearce)
Picture: Tom Moggach

EADT Business Awards finalists - Omega Ingredients (Steve Pearce) Picture: Tom Moggach - Credit: Archant

Earlier in his career, Mr Pearce worked for some major international flavour companies including Bush Boake Allen which had a plant near Long Melford, and it was this which first brought him to Suffolk.

However, he tired of big company culture which too often for his liking was, he says, one of: “It can’t be done”.

“When you are on your own you can try something and if it fails, it fails,” he says. “Nobody is successful all the time, and even if you do fail you learn something. In large companies there is often no room for innovation as everything has to be approved several times over.”

Freed from these restraints, Mr Pearce successfully built a business of his own based at Rougham, near Bury St Edmunds, which he eventually sold to venture capital investors – a decision he later regretted.

Omega Ingredients founder Steve Pearce

Omega Ingredients founder Steve Pearce - Credit: Archant

He started again with some consultancy work, then slowly built a new business with the help of some previous customer relationships and it was this which eventually became Omega Ingredients.

The business began in 2002 at The Technology Centre in Framlingham, where Mr Pearce originally expected to remain for no more than a year. In fact, partly down to the helpfulness of the centre and partly due to a lengthy search for new premises when the need to move arose, it was more than three years before it relocated to its current home at Orion Court, Great Blakenham, near Ipswich.

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Orion Court was still under construction when Mr Pearce head about the site and Omega was one of the first occupiers when it eventually moved in 2005. Since then, the company has twice expanded into additional space on the site, first three-and-a-half years ago and again earlier this year.

The operation still includes are area dedicated to small batch production although the manufacturing of larger volume products is outsourced.

Other facilities include an analytical laboratory, with hi-tech equipment which can identify the chemical make-up samples, an applications laboratory (a kind of “flavours library”) and tasting booths with neutral colours and lighting so that tasters are free from distractions and outside influences.

The human brain, says Mr Pearce, does have a tendency to be influenced, with the colour or even the shape of a product creating an expectation which can become self-fulfilling.

In addition to the various laboratory facilities, Omega also has a creation and innovation suite where customers can come and work with its team.

Beverage manufacturers are the biggest users of the company’s products, with gins very big just now. On the soft drinks side sugar reduction is high the agenda and Omega has developed its own natural alternative to sugar, marketed as OmegaSweet, which can allow a product to be marketed as free of sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Omega works closely not only with customers but also with its suppliers. “Provenance is a big thing for us,” says Mr Pearce. “A bit like the Marks & Spencer ads, customers want to be able to quote a genuine country of origin and we offer the traceability for them to do that. We can say to the customer: ‘If you like, we can take you to meet the grower’.”

When Omega moved to Great Blakenham it still had only one permanent employee, plus a student. Today, 12 years on, the figure stands at 17, up from 13 at the start of 2017, and is expected to reach 20 by the end of the year.

But, as the business grows, does Mr Pearce find it hard to let go? Far from it. He was, he says, delighted to discover recently that the company had developed and sold a new product without him knowing about it. The goal of encouraging an innovation culture would appear to have been achieved.