How Garlic Became a Southern Staple

Beyond the bench-top is an image of a St. Charles podcast video.

In this episode, South West Territory Manager Alec, sits down with Kristi to discuss the regional trends he has observed in the garlic market.

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Intro – You’re listening to Beyond the Bench-Top, a show about food ingredients! Our conversations go far beyond the lab as we dive into topics spanning from food science, to market trends, and everything in between!

Kristi – Hello and welcome back to the St. Charles Trading podcast called Beyond the Bench-Top. My name is Kristi, and I’m sure from previous videos you already know my role so I’m going to take it over to my co-worker Mr. Alec, hello!

Alec – Hi Kristi! How are you doing today?

Kristi – Good, how are you? Can you please introduce yourself?

Alec – Yes, absolutely! So as Kristi mentioned, my name is Alec, I am the SouthWest Territory Manager. I’ve been here for about three years, and my relevant work experience is about five.

Kristi – Mr. Alec is a King of the Veggies; I would like to say. So, first question I have is, obviously there’s many different categories to veggies, and I was kind of talking about this with Leti how she talks about you know how within each category or each type of vegetable there might be a bunch of different cuts or types of processing methods. What would you say are the most common variant of each of those? You might be able to do one in particular for carrots or each particular one.

Alec – Sure, absolutely, so I would say our probably our bread and butter, our most purchased variant of some of these ingredients would be garlic, granulated garlic. It’s just kind of a catch-all garlic that we sell to anyone basically, bakeries, spice blenders, beverage manufacturers actually. Some additional ones would be something like black pepper 16 mesh. So, we sell a lot of black pepper into a few different markets and we’re starting to work on some similar things, you know ancho guajillo, mostly chili powders, as well as onions. So, one of our strengths of Tuscanne Brands, St. Charles Trading’s private label, is you know not just having one ingredient that is kind of our go-to purchase variant, it’s having the flexibility to provide power, minced, granulated, and you know that really sets us up for success.

Kristi – Yeah, I agree, and I think especially within the veggie category, one thing that’s difficult is there are so many variants but that’s also really great too because St. Charles Trading, as a whole, is able to offer so many different types of products that can all vary in application-wise to our customer.

Alec – Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, so, and that’s part of what my job is and what your job is as well, is finding out what that customer needs. So, working with their R&D team, working with their buyers, their sales and marketing team, to figure out what we can provide, what our suppliers can provide, that is going to be their best solution at the end of the day. You know, like you said, with our, a lot of our veggie lines, we really can do anything. As long as we have a specification, we can make it a quarter-inch chop, a three inch- you know, three-eighths inch of a chop, slices, powder, and it really, again, sets us up for success very well.

Kristi – Yeah, definitely! Actually, the other day I was working on a stir-fry blend with some dehydrated vegetables, and one thing that’s really helpful is just kind of, you have an idea in your head what a stir-fry blend would be, but actually looking at what these types of cuts are within the veggies, just really helped. Because, just going off of, you know, a product specification is kind of difficult because you think, okay an eighth of an inch, it may look like this, or it may look like that, you might be actually needing a type of product that you weren’t particularly aware of.

Alec – Right, absolutely! No, that’s a very good example. You know, other things are minced garlic, and minced onion, you know you can see, you can go to the store and find 70 different types of minced onions and garlic and they go through different mesh sizes, they’re different applications. So, you know, there’s a lot of vernacular in our trade and a lot of vernacular in what we do specifically in St. Charles Trading, so again it’s really just drilling down and trying to meet a specific specification and having open lines of communication. Not only from the supply side and your team, but as well as, our customers as well, so trying to figure out what the consumer wants and passing that information along.

Kristi – The next question I have is, what would you say is the most difficult time whether that might be seasonal, or you know, decade-wise for the veggie market?

Alec – Sure, absolutely. And that’s a great question Kristi. You know, like I said, I’ve only been doing this for about three years, and I have heard from everyone that most specifically it is now. You have a lot of freight forwarding issues, you have a lot of logistical issues, domestically, that are making getting, just procuring vegetables, really any ingredient, almost impossible. And that’s where somebody like St. Charles Trading comes into play, because we are willing to reduce our cash flow a little bit, carry extra vegetables, carry extra ingredients. You know, we’ve really been able to help a lot of our customer base out. As I mentioned, you had the COVID-19 virus start about a year ago today, and, as soon as that started, basically China shut down. As you know, China is one of the main growers and manufacturers of a lot of the ingredients that, not only St. Charles Trading, but a lot of our company competitors use. And that really kind of put a three-to-six-month delay on everything. I’m sure you have seen the congestions at the Los Angeles and Oakland ports. And it is crazy! So, it is a fun time to be in the food industry. And, you know honestly, I haven’t talked to any of my co-workers, my colleagues outside of the food industry-

Kristi – Yeah, me neither!

Alec – But I can guarantee metal work, you know people who are procuring metal and things like that, I’m sure it’s pretty hard to predict right now as well.

Kristi – Yeah, definitely! I think what’s really great about the food industry, I would say it’s one of the industries that’s still doing really well despite of everything. It’s just, as much as it’s doing well, it makes availability hard and I think that that’s where St. Charles really shines, is that we’re able to make it happen despite there being tightness within the industry. For example, I know that a lot of people are trying to get on the freeze-dried vegetable side and honestly that market is really tight right now and, I mean it’s a good thing, because it’s showing that it’s doing well, but it also makes matters really difficult.

Alec – Absolutely, absolutely. And yeah, I think everything is tight right now. I mean there’s really no product that we have an abundance of, or anybody has an abundance of. Yeah. But that’s one of the beneficial things about being in the food industry world is that you’re never out of a job. You know, people are always going to eat your trends, and your markets, and what types of ingredients people use are always going to change, but people are always going to need dehydrated vegetables and spices.

Kristi – Yeah, definitely.

Alec – Which is- we have a job.

Kristi – Which is very good to hear! Another question I have is, in what industry is your top buyer in?

Alec – Yeah, so that’s a good question. Again, I don’t really have a specific answer, what I would say is that the strength of the Tuscanne Brands and Batavia Mills lines that we have, our dehydrated vegetables and our spices, is that they can almost go in anything.

Kristi – Yeah!

Alec – And, you know, the market trends are such, specifically in Texas and California with these large Latin-American populations where they can go in anything. I would say our top, our top industry would be kind of a meat buyer somebody that’s going to be a value add, that somebody’s making fajitas or soups or chilis, something like that. Or a spice blender that, you know in turn, will either sell it in the stores or to somebody who makes meat.

Kristi – Do you have any stories in particular where you feel like you were able to really help a customer and you were proud of the work that you had put forward?

Alec – So, one of the customers I worked for, we can call them Customer A, they’re a spice blender and they were making a few different spices for one of the large pizza delivery companies across the nation. And they had been, they had asked 20 different suppliers for their best ingredients on probably 40 to 50 different ingredients, and it’s quite a cumbersome project. And we had quickly been identified as like a top three competitor, or top three supplier for these ingredients. So over time, Pam and myself and our marketing team, our sales team, our purchasing team, put about 60 to 80 man-hours into this project. Finding ingredients, finding specs, and you know, as you can imagine, with somebody that’s making pizzas on a scale that they are, it has to be very airtight specs, nutritionals that are going to work for them. And over you know the 80 hours that we put into it, we really were able to gain some of that business. We didn’t gain all the business at that pizza supplier, but we were able to show our customer and their customer, the pizza company, that we really mean business. We have good pricing, quality ingredients, and then we’re able to go the extra mile.

Kristi – Yeah, that’s amazing!

Alec – Absolutely! There’s some actually some interesting things that happened, you know, as a ramification from that. Like I said, we didn’t get all the business, which stinks, but we got a little bit of it and actually one of the buyers noticed how hard we were working and offered me a job, so that was pretty cool!

Kristi – What a flex!

Alec – Yeah, I respectfully declined, I like working here at St. Charles. I appreciate it. But that was pretty funny.

Kristi – Yeah, that’s awesome.

Alec – Yeah, that was pretty cool, it was flattering. And the second and third thing is they actually they got us, gave us two leads down here in Texas.

Kristi – That’s awesome!

Alec – So, through their industry, they knew some people and they gave us leads and we were actually able to close them so-

Kristi – That’s great!

Alec – It was just one of those things that they really liked what St. Charles Trading had to offer, you know we do go above and beyond with customer service, we have quality ingredients, and at a fair, a very fair price. So, they really liked that and passed our name along.

Kristi – Yeah, definitely. And I really liked how you pointed out how particular we are about product specs and everything. I think a lot of the times people think that, you know, across the board a dehydrated vegetable or a dehydrated onion or garlic product is going to be the same. And I think one thing that St. Charles really excels at is we know that it’s not. And quality can be inconsistent, and we try to, as closely as possible, maintain that and make sure that- a lot of the times customers will come forward, it might be a completely new product that they’re looking for. They might want to say, “we want you to match this existing product that we have.” And it seemed and they were asking you to do that and it’s really amazing how closely you were trying to follow matching that and making them as happy as possible so that’s really spectacular.

Alec – Yeah absolutely. And you know, as you mentioned, it is no easy process in matching what these customers are looking for. You know, before we kind of onboard one of those international suppliers we go through so many steps, 38 or 40, just to approve a supplier. And that’s not even happens- you know, that’s not even what happens when we purchase a product. We have to do pre-shipment testing, post-shipment testing. We’ve flown out to our suppliers and see what their facility looks like and inspected it ourselves. It’s a very rigorous process, but we have to supply quality ingredients. We can go get not-quality ingredients on the market pretty cheap, but that’s not who we are.

Kristi – Yeah definitely. And I think that it’s hard to kind of orient everything. Whether it be being cost effective, being quality, being safe. It’s hard to, I would say, incorporate all three of those parameters. And I would say I’m really proud of St. Charles, how we’re able to incorporate all of those to really put, not only a high quality and premium product to our customers, but also something that is as cost effective as we possibly can.

Alec – Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a process that’s been battle tested, tried, and true for 37 years now. So, it’s not something that we thought of overnight, it has definitely been a process, and like you said, it’s something that we really pride ourselves in because we are very good at it and we are continuing to refine ourselves day-in and day-out, so I agree with you.

Kristi – Yeah, I think it’s really amazing here that we’re always trying to better ourselves, we’re always trying to kind of keep up to date with different processing parameters, really trying to have traceability in everything that we do. That way you know we are always making sure that everything is safe as well as high-quality, and we’re able to make sure that, you know, looking back everything is consistent with what the customer wanted, so that’s really great to hear as well. So, the next question I have is, do you believe that in years from now the market will start to become more competitive?

Alec – I actually don’t. You know, I do believe that the market is going to get saturated with more competitors, however I think the cream rises to the top. This is not an easy thing that we do day in and day out, and same with our competition. You know, our three, four, or five competitors that do what we do are very good at it and they do things that we’ve mentioned that make them good day in and day out, and no I don’t necessarily think that our market is going to get saturated with high-quality suppliers so I think that it’s going to be more ever present that people like St. Charles Trading and some of our competition keep continuing to have a good supply chain because there’s only going to be a growing need for dehydrated vegetables and spices. Again, as I mentioned with trends kind of shifting towards the spicier side of things, so it’s going to be exciting and again hopefully we can be on the leading edge of that platform.

Kristi – Yeah definitely. And I like that you said too, it’s always going to be relevant and it’s- I think one thing that people don’t realize too is culturally, it’s accepted everywhere. You know, everyone uses vegetables within their diet and their type of cuisine, so I think it’s something that regionally it’s great because everyone is using it, it’s always relevant, it’s always needed.

Alec – Absolutely! No, that’s a really, really good point it’s, again, we’re selling spices and vegetables to the beverage industry. I never thought that that would be something we did, so it’s definitely growing and it’s here to stay and that’s something we’re very excited about.

Kristi – Definitely! And then you can really kind of allocate and plan ahead, which we’re really great at so thank you for answering that.

Alec – Of course! Yeah, I know a lot of our customers tell us that we know their business better than they do. So, I don’t know how true that is, but it seems like a pretty good compliment. It’s holding true until proven wrong, you know.

Kristi – So, the last question I have is, what are you most excited for in the future? Whether that be your category, or just St. Charles as a whole.

Alec – Again, the past 15 months have been crazy in the world, but not only in the world, but within St. Charles Trading as well. About eight years ago we weren’t really a spice or ingredient or dehydrated vegetable ingredient manufacturer or distribution company. You know, we were mostly commodities, and while that was great and we’ve developed a lot of long-lasting partnerships with customers and suppliers, really, I think where we’ve grown and where we’re going to be going in the future is our dehydrated vegetables and our spices. And we’ve also developed these new blend capabilities. You know, we have a few different blenders, we have a line room that allows us to not only provide ingredients but provide a value-add with our ingredients. So, I’m really excited just to see what that next step, whatever it is.

Kristi – Thank you for answering that, Alec! I think it’s a really great opportunity to showcase our amazing high-quality premium ingredients so thank you very much for taking time out of your day for meeting with me.

Alec – Of course! Thank you for having me Kristi, I appreciate it.

Kristi – Yeah, thanks so much.

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