The Unexpected Range of Black Pepper

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On this week’s purchasing perspective of Beyond the Bench-Top, International Logistics and Sourcing Manager, Paul talks with Kristi about the many forms, qualities and applications for black pepper.

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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 – Hi! My name is Kristi and I’m the R&D Specialist here at St. Charles Trading. To learn more about my role or more about the company, please go to our Apple podcast or you can find us on YouTube. And please subscribe to our account. So today I have a new guest here, Mr. Paul. Paul and I actually used to be in the same department, and he is in the International Department. So, can you please properly introduce yourself?

Paul – Oh, absolutely! Well, my name is Paul Miranda. I am the international logistic and sourcing manager and happy to be here with you today! 

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely! Paul can you please tell us ingredient-wise, what you specialize in.

Paul – Well, I have very well knowledge about a lot of ingredients in International, but I think I specialize in black pepper.

Kristi – Nice! So, was that a choice up to you or was it kind of a category that you were given and then took on and felt really comfortable in? 

Paul – I was given that category, yes, but I fell in love with it. You know there is a lot to know about black pepper. Black pepper is a wonderful opportunity for all the customers who had before. Like people buying garlic, you know, there is a chance that they are buying black pepper from us too.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. So, Paul tell me, what characteristics are you typically looking for in your black pepper products?

Paul – Well we always look for a good oil on it. The size of the black pepper it’s very important too, and how much powder is on it. And how much particle, it’s for real like black pepper, because you know there is a lot of adulterated product on the market and we don’t want to provide that to our customers.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. Did it take some time for you to adjust to kind of looking at every single mesh size and be able to properly determine the differences?

Paul – Yes, yes, yes. Because you know, mesh sizes between one company and another, it could be very different. But it could be very similar too. You know like some companies call it 16 mesh for them, it’s 20 for ours or 10. You know, you name it. It could be different but at the end I think black pepper is very visual so you can, you can definitely know the mesh size, but look at it.

Kristi – Yeah, definitely. And I think it’s kind of difficult with that too because like you were saying with the meshes, it can really change and for some people what might be a characteristic for table black pepper, might be completely different mesh size for another company. So it’s like, where do you draw the line? Where is going to be the most consistent, as well as, the most normalized product?

Paul – Yes. So I always think that visual comparison is good when you are procuring this product.

Kristi – Yeah! A lot of the times I’ll ask Paul, and I’ll be like what mesh size is this? Right off the bat and I won’t give him any context and he’ll be able to be like that’s so-and-so. It solves a lot of my problems!

Paul – Yeah well you know, when you do it every day, I mean you get used to it. And sometimes I can even say like what treatment is on it, you know. PPO, ETO, Steam Sterilized… There are so many treatments. But always, always, you can smell it, you can see the color, so you can, you can know the difference between one and another.

Kristi – Yeah. What treatment do you feel like is typically the best to see within the product?

Paul – To me, it’s steam sterilized. And you guys know, our product is steam sterilized. A steam serialized to me is one of the best, it’s why most of the countries in Europe, they accept the steam sterilized and they don’t take ETO or another gas treatment on it. So, I think steam sterilized is the best.

Kristi – Yeah, I agree, and I think it’s hard because pepper is known to be a more kind of delicate product, and so you have to think about that and keep that in mind with the treatment. So, I like that you kind of are emphasizing how that helps maintain everything.

Paul – Yes, especially color!

Kristi – Yes, I know, that’s one thing that consumers want to see, that vibrant color. And so when they want to see that, they associate that with the quality of the product as well. My next question is with everything going on in the past year, have you seen any shift in the market?

Paul – Yes, absolutely because you know there is a lot of shortage of containers. So a lot of people were like, where can I get this? You know, so they just were buying from whoever was offering. But it doesn’t mean there was good quality, you know. Like they probably get it from countries that, black pepper is not that good.

Kristi – Yeah, definitely. I think within the past year some people were trying to make shortcuts, and one thing that I feel like I’m really proud of us here at St. Charles Trading is we’re not taking those, we always are finding solutions despite the difficult lead times. 

Paul – Yes, yes. And we have a pretty good stock, pretty good pricing, we were anticipating to what was coming so we increased our inventory to make it better, to make to satisfy our customers and to always provide them with the right product on the right time.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. And that’s kind of more preventative strategy, rather than reactionary because obviously you guys were really preparing for these different changes and these different obstacles that were going to happen within the year so that’s pretty amazing to see because it’s hard to be able to differentiate that. 

Paul – Yeah, and you know like people it’s eating more at home, people it’s snacking more, and black pepper is used on these markets, you know. So, all these snacks, your pretzels that you are eating with black pepper and salt, we are procuring that. So, there’s a lot of opportunities, there are a lot of products that need black pepper in the market, and then increase on the pandemic. The usage on the pandemic increase a lot.

Kristi – Yeah, definitely. And I think people are getting a little more creative with flavor profiles, and obviously you know this, black pepper is kind of known to be the king of spices. It’s predominantly in everything.

Paul – Yes, yes, yes, like a lot of people who doesn’t want to eat so much salt, for example, they use black pepper instead, you know. And sometimes you are even look at it that wellness, beauty they’re using black pepper, you know. So it’s a good opportunity for everyone.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely! It’s great with color, it’s great with spice, it’s really known for its anti-inflammatory properties, there’s a lot of health benefits. It’s actually known to be one of the healthiest spices so a lot of the times people will just add more salt to things, but you know when you’re adding spices you can subtract that sodium content. Which is known to be overall healthier, and then it’s also, I would say, helps kind of keep you fuller longer because you have those spices, you’re eating at a slower rate, I mean the opportunities that you can see black pepper going into there for the health and wellness industry, it’s going to, I think, continue to grow as people are becoming more and more aware  of their health, as well as their flavoring, their flavor pairings within their meals. 

Paul – Yeah, and you know, like millennials they are always looking for more ways to live better, eat better, then black pepper is a good option, you know. A lot of people use black pepper instead of a lot of salt, as you say, so it’s always a good way to eat better.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. And I think it comes down to what you’re putting in your body, you want to be proud of, and you want to say okay you know I’ve eaten really well this week, I’ve been eating at home a lot more. I know we’ve been seeing that shift a lot, people have been cooking for themselves much more, and now that things are opening up, I mean it’s going to start probably shifting to the restaurant industry again, but for a long time it was mostly grocery for quite some time. 

Paul – Yes, yes. But you know restaurants, they’re fully open now in most of this state so…

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. And I think you probably have seen that for a long time. You were talking about the lead times with the black pepper, I mean it’s been a year where nobody really could predict anything.

Paul – Yes. It was very hard to ship out containers a few weeks ago from most of the regions, so the lead times increased almost to four months. However, we had the product in here, so we were able to satisfy our customer to fulfill contracts. So, I think we are very well prepared for the coming.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. Since most people were cooking at home did you see a surplus in purchasing of kind of that table black pepper we were talking about?

Paul – Yes, yes. More that or table black pepper is either between a 16 mesh or 20 mesh. You know, so those are the black pepper where we see more usage in the last few months because, as you say, a lot of people were at home and a lot of people was eating at home, a lot of people were using this product at home.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. And pandemic aside, what is your, you would say, main industry that you see people purchasing from within the food industry? Is it, you know, health and wellness? Is it overall blends, rubs, what would you say?

Paul – I would say blends and seasonings. They are the people who were buying more black pepper during the pandemic.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. I mean one of the, I think the main spices, or the main blend that most people have in their household is lemon pepper. And people don’t even think that to be a blend because it’s just lemon and pepper, but that is something I’m sure that you see very commonly within the people that purchase black pepper.

Paul – Yes, and I think we see it more during the summer when people grill more so and they buy more spices.

Kristi – Exactly. It’s especially people too that are trying to be a little more adventurous, I’m sure, as well. My next question I have is have you seen the black pepper industry becoming more competitive? 

Paul – Yes, yes. I see a lot of a lot of people buying more black pepper, but also I see companies who offer black pepper yeah get more markets, more opportunities with customers, because you know there’s a lot of people who use spices and a lot of people might think that black pepper it’s what they what they need on their products. 

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. And how do you think St. Charles Trading stands out against their competitors that are selling black pepper?

Paul – I think our quality, our procedures to buy products, our procedures to approve any supplier of black pepper they are very very very well done. We process everything in house, and we make sure that black pepper that we procure is one of the best qualities out there.

Kristi – Yeah, I agree. I know it’s honestly a very intricate process and it’s a process that you don’t want to be patient through, but you have to because there’s a lot of obstacles along the way to make sure that these suppliers are verified as well as trustworthy. 

Paul – Yeah, I think a lot of companies they are looking only to sell, but we are not only looking to sell, we are looking to provide a good quality product, but also to make a relation with the customers to say you know what St. Charles Trading offered the best product. We are not just selling a product, we are selling an experience.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. And not only are we providing high-quality products, but we’re also providing high quality customer service, being able to find solutions that many other companies would not be able to provide.

Paul – Yes, yes. I think price is important, but quality is also very, very important.

Kristi – As well as often times, I feel like, forgotten about. So Paul do you have any questions for me?

Paul – Actually, yes! So, I would like to know how is our black pepper, what do you think about it? And I know you are using some of our products on your project plans, so what do you think how do you think it works?

Kristi – Yeah actually I was using, I was working on it in a blend that I was working on yesterday and the one thing that I really noticed about the black pepper was… it started off the blend had kind of a little bit of like a sweet, almost like a buttermilk taste, and then at the end you got that little bit of like sharpness the aromatic that like pungent taste of the black pepper just like a little bit of hint of spice and it kind of hit your tongue at the end and it ended up with like a really nice well-balanced earthy flavor in the blend, and I think one thing that I was really happy with was that it kind of provided a whole experience I would say for the blend. Towards the end it had a little bit of flavor hint and it was a little bit of an impact on the tongue which is something that I feel like is going to help us stand against our competitors, as well as kind of show people that you know we bring the spice, we bring different elements, we bring quality ingredients, as well as something that I was pretty proud to put forward and show to our customer.

Paul – And I’m pretty sure, as you might be aware, a lot all of our black pepper products we can provide all the right documentation on it.

Kristi – Exactly! One thing I think St. Charles does a really good job of is we’re trying to understand the application. So, you know better than anybody that each mesh size is for a different application. So, you can recommend what would be the best alternative based on is it going into a salad dressing, is it for bakery, is it for a snack, is it for sometimes confectionary? It doesn’t matter, but you’ll know which one is the best alternative.

Paul – Absolutely, yes! And as I tell you, like I always ask my customer for a spec, but also I always ask them for pictures too. To have a visual comparison of the product to see what will fit them better because the name can change, but at the end the black pepper, I would think, or black pepper it can be used in most of the applications.

Kristi – Yeah, absolutely. And I know that you said one of the biggest things about black pepper is it’s a visual game and it’s ultimately up to the customer for what they want visually. We can make recommendations, but at the end of the day the customer is basically the person that’s calling the shots making the decisions.

Paul – Yes, yes. And you know, to be hundred percent honest with you, I hear a lot of people say I want this treatment, I want that treatment, but I never hear or treatment to say I don’t want that treatment, so it’s why we use this treatment is why we procure this type of black pepper because it’s accepted with most of the customers.

Kristi – Right! It’s more widely accepted which makes it prob- 9 out of 10 times the best alternative.

Paul – Yes, yes.

Kristi – Well, Paul knows all the applications to black pepper. I’m sure he’s heard all, he knows every mesh size he knows every type of even if it’s the 25 60 mesh you’ll be able to identify it right away. And so yeah, honestly, thank you so much the “King of Spice,” the “King of Black Pepper” for joining us today.

Paul – Thank you for inviting me. 

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