- Jan 19, 2017
Anyone who has ever bitten into a caramel, sprinkled baby powder on an infant, lit a scented candle, enjoyed a flavored soft drink, or even fed their pet a treat, has benefited from a Bell Flavors and Fragrances product. These are just a few examples of the 10,000 flavors and fragrances that Northbrook based Bell has developed in its impressive 100 plus year history.
Headquartered in Northbrook since 1981, the company is known not only for its innovation and research, but for its customer service and tremendous growth. Because “a taste or scent is the fingerprint of a product,” according to President Jim Heinz, Bell develops personal relationships with each of its customers, for whom products have to be individually formulated. The company’s manufacturing facilities maintain 7,000 flavors, each with a different formula specific to the requirements of each of its 3,000 customers in the food, beverage, cosmetic, household care, and personal care companies. The fact that it can respond to orders in a matter of days also makes it stand out from its competitors and has led to Bell’s growth and success.
It all began in 1912 when the company’s namesake and founder William Bell, a creative flavor chemist, began selling his flavors to local ice cream parlors, grocery stores and soda pop shops. With 400 candy companies in Chicago, he expanded the business with a focus on the confectionary market. Bell developed the first flavorings for caramels and marshmallows, formulas which are still used today. In 1968 chemist Edward Heinz purchased the William Bell Company, re-energizing the company by focusing on its original tenets of creative flavor development and unparalleled customer service. From there, the company’s domestic growth took off.
In 1979, following the purchase of a fragrance company, the company name was changed to Bell Flavors and Fragrances. Two years later Bell purchased the flavor division of Stepan Chemical Company and moved the company headquarters from Melrose Park to Northbrook. Shortly thereafter, Bell acquired Synfleur, Nestle’s flavor and fragrance division, manufacturer of the scent for Johnson and Johnson baby powder. The company grew to include two more manufacturing plants in New York and a research and development division in New Jersey.
With the passing of Edward Heinz in 1987, sons Jim, Raymond and Reb Heinz continued with their vision of growing and expanding the company. In 1993 Bell acquired Schimmel and Co. in Leipzig, Germany, considered the world’s first flavor and fragrance company, complete with the 35,000 volume Schimmel Library, the oldest and largest chemical library in the world. In the same year, the company purchased a 100,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Middletown, New York to manufacture fragrances and botanicals for North American customers.
Between 1995 and 2009 the company grew its footprint around the world with acquisitions in various Canadian locations, Hong Kong, Guadalajara, Mexico, Shanghai, China and Sao Paulo, Brazil. This allowed for expansion into the beverage, confectionary, dairy and savory industries.
All of this domestic and international growth was accompanied by further expansions at the Northbrook headquarters, which quadrupled its footprint and the number of employees between 1981 and 2016. Just last year, Bell began a 15,000 square foot expansion and 5,000 square foot renovation of its 80,000 square foot main building and purchased the building behind the property. The $5 million investment in the new space paved the way for a new dry blend area, the installation of a new laboratory for the development of fragrances and the addition of a new culinary center complete with a presentation kitchen.
Looking back, Jim Heinz can recall when his father purchased the company with three full time employees and himself and a handful of others who worked part time. The company now has seven worldwide manufacturing plants, R & D operations in ten countries, sales offices in 40 countries, 275 employees in Northbrook and 1,200 employees worldwide. It’s now the largest US family owned global flavor and fragrance company, and ranked among the top 15 flavor and fragrance companies in the world.
Already plans are underway for future international growth. But the operations will always be tied to its Northbrook headquarters according to Jim. “The company grew up here — it’s been headquartered here for one third of its life. We know our customers appreciate working with someone who has a local presence but wields global capabilities.”