Leon Skaliotis, CEO of Flavourtech, Discover how Flavourtech, founded over 40 years ago by an innovative winemaker in Australia, evolved from addressing grape juice desulphiting to revolutionizing flavor extraction and concentration across various industries.

Question: What inspired the founding of Flavourtech and how has the company evolved since its inception?

Flavourtech is an Australian company that started over 40 years ago when our founder, a winemaker, was sent from Adelaide to the town of Griffith, Australia’s largest wine/grape growing region to set up a winery. When the winery was set up, he found problems where all the grapes would come in together and he did not have the processing capacity to process all the grapes into wine immediately. He was looking for something that could desulfite grape juice. At that time, one of Australia’s premier research organizations, the CSIRO was working on a particular technology called the Spinning Cone Column (SCC). He heard about it and approached them to see if they could desulfite grape juice. It worked and he decided to purchase the technology and commercialize it. That is how Flavourtech started with its entry in the market in the wine industry.

Question: Flavourtech technology seems to revolutionize the extraction and concentration process in the F&B industry. Could you elaborate on how your technology works and its advantages over traditional methods?

It became very apparent to us that, even though the (SCC) technology was first developed for the wine industry to desulfite grape juice, it had broader applications that customers wanted. It could remove alcohol from wine and beer, but it could also capture natural volatile flavours from a variety of products. One of the first new applications we discovered was coffee. Without hesitation, our founder and his associates travelled to Brazil to engage with coffee companies, marking the beginning of our business in the coffee industry. Today, our coffee and tea business accounts for approximately 60 percent of our global operations.

Around this time, we also found that SCC technology could capture the fresh notes of fruit, making it invaluable to flavour companies worldwide. To achieve the best flavours, the technology must be very gentle. Our technologies use low temperatures under vacuum with very short residence times. The quality of the aromas  we capture is a significant benefit of processing with such brief residence times. For example, our evaporator operates with just a one-second heat contact time, unlike most evaporators that use high temperatures for many minutes, which destroys many active ingredients in the product. Our evaporator preserves all the vitamins and active ingredients to ensure they reach the consumer.

Similarly, the SCC is a distillation column that processes products in 25 seconds, capturing natural flavours fully intact.

Question: Flavourtech has a prominent Global presence. What are some of the challenges and opportunities you encounter by operating in different markets around the world?

One of the significant challenges we face is travel. The impact of COVID-19 was profound. Without our technical team, service team, or sales team being able to travel, it was very difficult to connect with our customers and meet their needs. However, through the use of AR glasses, webinars, phones, and the internet, we were able to continue our business.

Another challenge is language barriers. To address this, we have agents and distributors worldwide who can speak the language of our customers. Flavourtech’s head office in Griffith is home to almost 20 different nationalities. For example, in the past, while negotiating with a customer from Brazil, our finance manager who is Brazilian, was able to assist, making the whole process much easier.

Question: Sustainability is a growing concern in various industries. How does Flavourtech approach this?

Sustainability for us encompasses various aspects. One major focus is the energy use of our equipment. We have been exploring ways to reduce energy consumption by using environmental heat exchangers that utilize the hot product coming out of our system to heat the incoming product, and vice versa. We are also continually seeking to improve our energy efficiencies and water usage.

Moreover, our technology helps our customers enhance their sustainability efforts by processing waste streams. Instead of discarding orange peels, apple pomace, or similar by-products, our customers can process these materials to create value-added products that they can offer to their clients worldwide. This approach extends beyond fruit products; it also applies to the production of plant-based meats. Our technology can remove undesirable notes from plant materials used in meat substitutes, improving the quality of these products.

Question: Innovation is key to staying competitive. How does Flavourtech foster innovation within the company and what recent innovations are you particularly excited about?

Flavourtech has always been an innovative company. Our technologies are unique in the world today, and our focus on quality sets us apart. While there are other methods to achieve similar applications, Flavourtech leads the way in terms of quality and is considered the gold standard in many of the industries we serve. Innovation is a key metric for our company, and our staff are dedicated to this principle.

Every year, we allocate a specific amount of money and time to improve our technologies and applications. We also collaborate closely with our customers globally. When they approach us with specific needs, we work together to develop innovative solutions that enhance flavour, taste, mouthfeel, and health benefits of their products. This team-oriented approach ensures that Flavourtech remains at the forefront of innovation, making it a core part of our company mantra.

Question: The food and beverage industry is constantly evolving. How does Flavourtech stay ahead of trends and adapt to changing consumer preferences? What are your plans for the near future? 

Our customers include some of the largest global companies. They approach us because they want to stay ahead of their competition, and teamwork is crucial to our approach. We listen to our customers to understand their goals and help them create more competitive products for their consumers. The food and beverage market is highly competitive, so continuous innovation is essential.

One of the innovations I’m particularly excited about is our development of a smaller Spinning Cone Column, the SCC100. This system allows our customers to process smaller quantities, about 20 to 50 liters per hour, enabling them to experiment and bring products to market faster. Previously, they had to process thousands of liters per hour, but now they can conduct short runs and quickly develop different taste and flavour profiles for new product ranges.

Additionally, we are collaborating with Aquaporin, a leading company in forward osmosis technology from Denmark. Their unique system is even used on the NASA space station to purify water for astronauts. This technology can concentrate aromas without damaging them, allowing our customers to create innovative new products without losing any flavours in the concentration process.