National Flavors - A Formula for Success and Modernization0
Building a successful business takes dedication, experience, and the courage to try new things - three things Dan Hinkle of National Flavors brings to the table.
Now President of the Kalamazoo-based company which provides flavoring for baked goods, confections, frozen desserts, and processed fruits, Hinkle is a First Assembly Christian School graduate who originally set out for Grand Rapids for college and a career.
He stayed on after graduation and, in just two years there, helped modernize and grow the records retrieval company to nine employees and almost triple the annual sales.
"Today Legal Copy Services has about 90 employees and it has been exciting to see their growth," he said.
In late 2007, family and the opportunity to carry on his father's legacy drew Hinkle back to Kalamazoo and a position at National Flavors in December 2007. He worked alongside his father for five years, eventually purchasing the company in December 2012 upon his father's retirement.
"He's just a great guy. He was easy to work with and we complemented each other well," Hinkle said of his father. "I'm really grateful for him and how he was during the transition because he allowed me to make a number of changes to the business.
"When I started at National Flavors all our formulas were on 4x6 index cards. We still had typewriters, and this was 2008," Hinkle said. "I had to figure out how to modernize and be more efficient. One of my main tasks was looking at the back of the house side of the business and determining how to leverage technology.
"We were rewriting 10-pound formulas for 50-pound batches, rewriting by hand each time," he said. "The guy that did that took about 6 hours of his day."
Hinkle knew there had to be a better way, so he set to work collecting institutional and instinctual knowledge into a shared and efficient system. The result was a custom application unveiled in 2013 and named "Dwight" after a character from The Office.
"Dwight is what we run our business on today," Hinkle said.
In order to fully harness Dwight's efficiency, National Flavors' production and operations teams all moved to tablets in 2016.
In early April, National Flavors introduced Flavorush, based on Dwight's platform. The web-based program gives customers a digital view into the hundreds of flavors in the National Flavors portfolio as well as access to the required regulatory documents associated with each product. They also stock flavor samples of each of these items and ship them within 24 hours.
"Flavorush gives our customers instant access to our portfolio 24/7, allowing them to work on projects on their time. It will be a huge selling point for us," Hinkle said.
"This is an important part of what I have been working on and it's bringing us into the 21st century."
As technology and customer services expanded, National Flavors needed more space to fulfill its production needs.
"We had outgrown our previous facility from a production standpoint. We have more technical staff today than ever before and we needed a different infrastructure," he said.
After more than 60 years at its location off Kings Highway, the business moved to a custom-designed and newly constructed facility on Stadium Drive southeast of Kalamazoo. Completed in just three days, the move took place in January 2018.
The new headquarters allowed for increased production capacity and is set up to accommodate continued growth and expanded flavor and application lab space in a modern and attractive setting.
"At the end of the day we're trying to be the most convenient and effective flavor partner, in addition to offering flavors that help our customers deliver joy to the consumer," Hinkle said.
"We have some really valuable people and we want to grow and enable them to stay with us," Hinkle said of his 40-person team. "I like to say that if you're smart, hard-working, and have a lot of character, you're really going to enjoy working here."
A millennial himself, Hinkle said the stereotypical complaints about the age group don't apply to his team.
"We have a really fantastic group of 22- to 35-year-olds that work here and are killing it," he said. "That group is really driving our company."
Youth and the willingness to embrace technology have enabled National Flavors to grow, but this is just the beginning for National Flavors.
"My 10-year plan is to be the easiest in the flavor industry to work with," Hinkle said. "Looking back on the progress in the last 10 years from having nothing in a digital format to launching a very progressive tool with Flavorush, it's taken a lot of work to find the right group of people to make it happen."
While he's proud of the company's growth, Hinkle's favorite part of his job is the team he works with.
"I like the creative aspect of my work and the reality that the 40 people here today are the only group of its kind in the world. We all have unique strengths and bring unique things to the table," he said.
In addition to a thriving business, Hinkle's home life is also expanding as he and his wife - a fellow Kalamazoo native - are expecting their third child. When he's not developing the next innovation to implement at National Flavors he enjoys spending time with family and friends, playing golf and guitar, and attending concerts - all easily done in and around Kalamazoo.
"Kalamazoo is close to Lake Michigan, it's close to Chicago, and it's a nice-sized town," he said. "We have lots of great friends here and it allows our kids to be closer to grandparents."