Four Courses and Five Questions
Business Lunch with Dr. Tina Tan, General Manager of Matrix Flavours & Fragrances
The world is getting smaller and smaller – at least from a culinary perspective. We travel the world increasingly and bring a yearning for that exotic taste of our travels and experiences back home. This is where Matrix Flavours & Fragrances comes into play. The Malaysian company is introducing authentic Asian flavours to Europe with a special focus on the current food trends as well as natural flavours. Lebensmittelverabeitung-online.de met its General Manager, Dr. Tina Tan, at the Food Ingredients Europe 2017 in Frankfurt to learn more about what motivates the company’s expansion to Europe, get a taste of pandan cake and talk about current trends in the world of flavours.
1. Amuse Gueule
LMV-online.de: Dr. Tan, there are already several companies with a strong profile on the European market for flavours and food additives – among them companies from Germany, Great Britain and the US. What makes Matrix Flavours & Fragrances special?
Matrix Flavours & Fragrances has been in existence for 40 years now as a privately owned flavour house. When we started our business in 1978 we were the only Asian flavour house that was privately owned and not an American, European or Japanese company. At that point in time the West dictated what our taste profiles were ¬– which was very far from what our actual food tasted like. The flavours on the Asian market were not authentic to our culture and tastes. That motivated us to start an Asian based company to cater to authentic Asian tastes and provide authentic flavours. Matrix Flavours & Fragrances was the only flavour house in Southeast Asia that was started from scratch and not as a spin-off of a larger foreign company. We introduced innovative ideas such as bake stable heat-resistant flavours and sweet, tropical flavours to the market. After only four years, in 1984, we were able to transfer our technology to a UK-based flavour house which was a big achievement for us.
Our motto is to always be at the forefront of innovation and provide our customers with high quality flavours that fit current food trends and are produced with innovative technology. We understand ourselves as an all-encompassing flavour house. Currently we focus on the baking market, beverages and dairy products. However, we usually reconsider our focus every two to three years and continually develop particular areas to enlarge our portfolio. We have a focus on natural sweet flavours as well as dairy which includes butter flavours, an area in which we possess a high competence. At the moment we also put a special emphasis on savoury flavours like chicken or beef.
LMV-online.de: You just established your first European office in Antwerp. Can you tell us a little about your undertaking to introduce the European industry to your flavours?
Anticipating trends and belonging to the innovators within the industry has always been important to us. Even though we are a privately owned company we act like an MNE. This includes the quality of our flavours as we are especially dedicated to our certifications. Our entire factory is halal dedicated and certified and we also offer kosher certified products. With our certifications whether it is FSSC 22000, ISO 9001:2008 or HACCP, we assure the quality of our products to our customers. This demonstrates that focusing on our customers has always been the core of our company.
We have never had our own Europe based Sales Team even though we have provided services to European customers over the years. We thought now is the right time to establish ourselves with an office in Belgium which covers the whole European market. We hope to increase our network of distributors and customers and of course to increase our market share. Usually, this happens the other way round. Western companies go east to establish themselves on a large Eastern market. But with Matrix “East goes west” – as an Asian flavour house we bring our authentic Asian flavours to Europe.
In addition, we have developed natural flavours for the European market. We recognize a large demand and a growing trend. Natural flavours are not as popular in Asia which might be partly dependent on price. Customers in Europe are willing to pay higher prices for natural flavours.
3. Intermediate Course
LMV-online.de: Many people are travelling through Asia, ingredients that were exotic 20 years ago like ginger or curries are part of everyday life and people are looking for more and more exotic tastes. Do you think there are still strong differences in taste and flavour between Europeans and Asians?
Let’s start with similarities in flavours. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and banana are staples that are known and liked everywhere. Matrix makes a difference when it is about our heat resistant Emulcos which are great for baking goods or when it comes to specific Asian flavours. I do feel like the world is getting smaller and smaller. People are traveling the world and becoming truly cosmopolitan. Curry, mango or lychee are normal parts of our diet in most places now. People are exposed to flavours from all over the world and as a result our taste profile changes. Many people in the Western world love Chinese or Indian food, right now Korean and Japanese food are coming into fashion. We believe that we can offer these flavours that are in demand to the European market because we are experts of Asian flavours and at adapting it to regional expectations in Europe. On the other hand, there are many professional chefs in Europe who incorporate Asian tastes into their food creating a fusion cuisine that they re-introduce to Asia. To answer the question: there is a growing diversity in flavours on both continents which also means that the differences become more insignificant.
4. Main Course
LMV-online.de: Which current trends do you see and how does Matrix react to them?
Coco and pandan are very common in the Asian cuisine. Everybody in Europe loves coconut at the moment. Pandan is a new hype right now; the pandan leaves taste fresh and a bit like nuts. Usually the leaves are prepared and cooked, but pandan is also used in desserts and cakes. Pandan is a way to expand dessert flavours and diversify from typical ones like vanilla. We offer pandan in liquid form and as a powder for a variety of products. Pandan flavour evaporates after only 30 minutes which is why it is really hard to use it in the form of a natural flavour as for example with dried leaves. But we are working on a solution for that. Apart from coco and pandan, more tropical fruits are making their way to the European market. One of them is soursop, a lemon fruit full of antioxidants and vitamins. It has a bittersweet taste and is often used for beverages. We invest a lot of time in research and develop new potential markets considering their regional specifications. This is the best way to adapt our products to local tastes for satisfied customers.
LMV-online.de: Dr. Tan, you were born and raised in Malaysia, completed your studies in Australia, you travel on business all over the world. What are your favorite tastes and cuisines and who can prepare them best?
I don’t have a favourite taste – I enjoy the diversity of culture and food each country has to offer and often incorporate it in my home kitchen, or take inspiration to merge flavours from various regions to create a new concept or pairings for the business. My motto in life: try everything at least once! I try and eat local foods in whatever country I am in because I believe that’s where it is prepared best and I often take recipes home to try and recreate or use as inspiration. On a company level, we try and cater our flavours to local and regional specifications which has been a successful model so far to allow us to expand our reach to over 55 countries.
Thank you for the very informative and – literally – tasty interview Dr. Tan!