Allied Blending & Ingredients Inc.

Since 1981, Iowa-based Allied Blending & Ingredients Inc. (ABI) has been helping its customers make high-quality end products by providing key ingredient blends. The company works for clients in the food industry – such as bakeries, cheese makers and tortilla producers – and the pharmaceuticals industry. It also blends products for laundry applications, such as instant, cook-up and dry-to-liquid starches.

Several of Allied Blending’s brand-name products have achieved leadership status in their respective markets and continue to showcase the company’s philosophy of combining an entrepreneurial spirit with a “near-fanatical” commitment to customer service, says Matt Stelzer, vice president of operations. Its expertise in formulation and blending of sophisticated and difficult ingredients has drawn several nationally recognized food-manufacturing giants to Allied Blending to blend some of their products on a toll blending, or contract manufacturing, basis. Some of these toll blend agreements have been ongoing for more than 12 years.  

Allied Blending’s ability to produce precise blends, for which the distribution of key ingredients are routinely tested for blending accuracy to specific parts-per-million, has rapidly grown its toll blending and contract manufacturing portfolio of customers.

ABI manufactures a wide range of mixes, from anti-caking agents to prevent shredded cheese from clumping to liquid preservatives such as calcium chloride. It also makes unique products such as dairy blends for schools for beverages and ice cream. “We export a lot of blends to school nutritional programs, as well as blends for ice cream manufacture all over, including the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa,” says Matt Stelzer, vice president of operations.

ABI’s custom blends and precision blending techniques set it apart from the rest of the industry, Stelzer explains. Because the size of the ingredient particles it blends can vary in size – large-particle ingredients like salt and small, lightweight particles like flour – segregation can occur.

But ABI’s precision blending ensures each batch has equal distribution of the ingredients in the mixtures. In addition to some proprietary methods, ABI uses gravimetrics – which is the use of gravity to move a product – to reduce the vulnerability to segregation in its blends.

“A lot of people can use a blender and blend ingredients, but you have to make sure the distribution of ingredients within each batch is accurate,” Stelzer explains. “It is the accuracy of the distribution of ingredients within the batch, whether it’s in the first, middle or last portions of the batch that determine if you are a precision blender or just a blender.”

Batch by Batch

Custom-blended BatchPaks™ for bakers and tortilla makers are a major reason customers keep returning to ABI.  BatchPaks™ are premade mixes of micro-ingredients, which are expensive but critical, such as calcium propionate, L-cysteine and sodium metabisulfite. Customers add these micro-ingredients to its mixtures of macro-ingredients, such as flour and shortening. Because these packs are custom-made for each customer and application, they can range in size from 11 to 37 pounds, Stelzer explains.

“They’re all custom-made to their requirements – they’re tailor-made to the specifications and characteristics of each customer’s formulas, equipment, and operating characteristics,” Stelzer says. “It’s not like we have an inventory and just take it off the shelf and give it to [customers]. Instead of having one product that goes to 200 customers, we’ll have 200 products going to 200 customers. That really does set us apart – we’re pretty much the only ones doing custom products for them.

“We make unique blends as our customers require,” he continues. “We carry products that respond to current health and nutrition trends. These are clean-label, low-fat, low-sodium, multi-grain and low-calorie formulas. Aside from these, we also formulate for products being exported overseas based on specific food laws and regulations in those countries.”

The ability to custom blend these products falls in line with ABI’s focus on customer service, which Stelzer says is “exceptional.” The company’s batch pack business has tripled in the past four years, and he credits ABI’s service and formulation expertise with that growth.

“I think it’s because we’ve been so responsive to customers and their ordering patterns,” Stelzer remarks. “We’re very accommodating to – maybe even too much so – many customers who call us and request these products with no lead time and need them that day or the next morning. From a production and service perspective, we’re very agile – we’ve had to become that way to support our customers and grow their business as well as ours.”

A component of exceptional customer service, he says, is Allied Blending’s teams that track customer inventories and needs for products, calling them to remind them of low inventories, tracking product samples, coordinating technical service calls or scheduling deliveries with its zone-based delivery vehicles.

Blending in Naturally

Most of ABI’s ingredients are natural – and most are grain-based – while many competitors’ products are made with chemicals, Stelzer notes. That has attracted customers as the industry is facing a trend to go natural and reduce the number of ingredients in a product.

“They’re label-friendly products,” Stelzer says. “Our customers are working hard to improve their labels, and to do that, they try to incorporate more natural, healthier ingredients instead of chemicals that are difficult to pronounce. There’s a big movement away from these chemical ingredients, so we’re doing everything we can to go the natural route.”

For the corn tortilla market, ABI manufactures liquid preservatives to extend the shelf life of chips and tortillas. It also offers tortilla conditioners, which can be added to customers’ batches to increase finished product quality and yields, ABI explains.

“For the flour tortilla market, ABI offers specially formulated BatchPaks™ consisting of salt, baking powder ingredients, preservatives, dough conditioners and other important ingredients necessary to make a tortilla to [customers’] exact specifications,” the company says. “The tortilla manufacturer only has to add the flour, water and shortening/oil in most cases to create a tortilla that has been optimized for their manufacturing system and for their finished product characteristics.”

First-Rate Facilities

In addition to its headquarters in Keokuk, Iowa, ABI has facilities in California and Dallas. The California facility, which is just three years old, received the Dairy 3A rating, and Stelzer notes that it’s likely the only Dairy 3A-rated blending facility on the West Coast.

An independent, not-for-profit corporation, 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc. says it is dedicated to advancing hygienic equipment design for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. The organization says it represents the interests of stakeholder groups with a common commitment to promoting food safety and public health for regulatory sanitarians, equipment fabricators and processors.

The 125,000-square-foot Iowa facility – which recently received a 4,000-square-foot addition – includes R&D and bake labs, primarily for the company’s bakery products. ABI completes its own R&D as well as teaming up with customers to develop customized products. The company installed a complete commercial tortilla production line at its California facility to replicate production performance of its R&D development products to that of commercial tortilla production. This facility is at the disposition to its customers at no cost, Stelzer notes.

All the company’s facilities are rated at the highest possible level for food safety and good manufacturing practices, and are audited and inspected by the American Institute of Baking on a yearly basis. In addition to audits and inspections by the USDA and FDA, ABI welcomes audits from its customers at any time. Its manufacturing and safety policies are “a way of life” and designed to be continuously in place, making preparations for an audit unnecessary, the company says.

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