• April 20, 2024

An Italian Flavor

 An Italian Flavor

Photo: TTI

Photos: TTI

From its new subsidiary in Umbria, TTI can supply its global customers more efficiently and cost-effectively.

By Stefanie Rossel

The tree-covered rolling hills of central Italy’s Umbria region provide the backdrop for the European subsidiary of U.S.-headquartered flavor house TTI. Here, in the plain at the foot of the hill of Assisi, a charming medieval town halfway between Florence and Rome, the company has set up a state-of-the-art production facility and warehouse.

Establishing the new flavor factory has been a long journey, relates Jeremy Davis, TTI’s sales marketing manager, who leads the project and is the sister of TTI CEO George Cassels-Smith. The family business specializes in flavors with aroma chemicals, many of which have complex profiles to generate unique taste experiences. It develops high-quality flavors for shisha, cigars, snus, cigarettes, modern oral pouches, e-liquids and cannabinoids. Casings are also part of its portfolio.

“We tried to put a warehouse in Dubai many years ago, but due to some high-rise fires in the city, the government wouldn’t allow chemical storage in free trade zones any longer. TTI then thought of Turkiye, but at that time, Trump and Erdogan were on difficult terms,” says Davis, referring to the former U.S. president and the current Turkish one. “Just as we were about to sign a contract for an existing factory, Erdogan wouldn’t allow Americans into Turkiye.”

Europe turned out to be a good option. “We opted for Italy because the tobacco industry has always had a strong presence here, and [we opted] for Assisi because there are other tobacco entities right here,” Davis said. Universal’s affiliate Deltafina subsidiary, for instance, is located in neighboring Bastia Umbra. “Logically, maybe Milan would have made more sense because it’s a center of chemical manufacturing, but George wanted to be close to the tobacco industry.”

What was supposed to start with a warehouse quickly evolved into a full manufacturing facility, according to Davis. Built during the Covid pandemic and opened about a year ago, the 6,000 square-meter facility currently manufactures about 100 flavors for tobacco products using 700 different raw materials. New flavors and raw materials are being added weekly. The facility that produces such a multitude of flavors is surprisingly sparse: A corner of the spacious shop floor hosts two huge, shiny 18,000-liter casing tanks. They are complemented by two 200-liter tanks to mix smaller volumes.

On the wall opposite that corner is the warehousing space. Quality control is rigorous: All incoming raw materials must pass an internal check before being used to manufacture flavors. The finished flavors undergo a similarly strict quality assessment procedure before delivery to the customer. Traceability of both raw material and finished product is a basic procedure for TTI. Flavors are validated at both the Italian facility and TTI’s U.S. facility.

Faster and Less Costly Delivery

The Italian factory features a “plug and play” concept throughout the production department and the laboratory. It also includes space to construct a clean room for the manufacture of e-liquids, which is scheduled to start by 2024. TTI intends for the Italian factory to eventually produce exactly the same portfolio as its U.S. mother plant, where the company creates novel aromas in a newly developed R&D center.

The goal of replicating its U.S. process abroad is to lower transport cost and facilitate the logistics process. Many of TTI’s clients are based in Europe and the Middle East whereas many suppliers of raw materials are in Europe. This means that producing in the U.S. requires a lot of shipping across the Atlantic.

“When we started to produce flavors for these markets in the U.S., transport was already expensive and took a long time,” Davis says. “Now with the changed situation due to the Covid pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is much more expensive and takes even longer. It’s very burdensome to our customers to be paying all of that and waiting the times they have to today. We just want to make it easier for them and more cost-effective.” TTI’s production for Europe and the Middle East, which is currently carried out at both the U.S. and the European sites, is planned to be eventually shifted largely to Assisi.

TTI caters to many players but, like other flavor manufacturers, doesn’t always know in which end products their flavors are used. When the company is dealing with customers who are looking for a specific flavor profile, TTI conducts panel testing to find that profile. “Customers pretty much tell you what they want,” says David. “Different customers have different requirements.”

The appropriate flavor profile also depends on the region and cultures in which the end product will be consumed. “Shisha in the Middle East is more traditional flavors, but they’re growing into what we call fusion flavors,” says Davis. “In Europe, fruits are big. Minty flavors are sought after but restricted in an increasing number of markets.”

Davis observes increasing demand for TTI products in Europe from the growing modern oral nicotine category. “Geographically, we are growing a lot in the Middle East and Africa. We focus on Asia; we have a successful Chinese sales office, but we’re presently putting more work into south [Asia] and Southeast Asia.”

A Company with Tradition

The Cassels-Smith family has a long history in the tobacco industry. It started more than 150 years ago with exports of U.S. tobacco leaf under the name Gieski and Neiman. In 1975, Davis’ father left the company to set up the flavor house TTI. Unlike many competitors who make aromas for other industries, TTI has always dedicated its service exclusively to the tobacco industry. Recently, the company expanded with the creation of eLiquiTech, which specializes in e-liquid. In late 2020, eLiquiTech introduced SyNic, a high-purity (typically 99.9 percent) synthetic nicotine (S-nicotine) that is neither obtained from tobacco nor derived from a synthetic racemic mixture.

At the time when the Assisi site was built, TTI ventured into cannabinoids by establishing Emerald Green Technology. This subsidiary creates fresh terpene blends, tinctures and edibles as well as casings and distinctive flavors for hemp, hemp shisha, cannabis cigarettes, oral CBD and THC pouches. The company plans to transfer its expertise to TTI Assisi to cater to the cannabis market that is expected to develop in Europe. Germany’s government, for instance, recently announced that it would legalize cannabis during the current legislative period.

“Typically, we find trends start in the U.S., move to Europe, and then they go beyond Europe,” says Davis. “We are seeing growth of interest in cannabis here, so I think the EU will be going down the same road as the U.S.”

Davis is excited about the outlook for the tobacco industry. “It has its challenges, but we are working hard to find other avenues within the industry, such as working with synthetic nicotine to develop safer products, e-liquids, CBD and hemp. There are opportunities out there where there’s growth in the industry—it is just evolving.”