Chef and experienced spice blender Philip Abbott always thought his dream was to open his own restaurant. That aspiration changed in November 2001, however, when he stepped out of the kitchen to open Terra Spice Co.
“You have a vision you head towards and the vision I realized was not a restaurant – it was a spice company,” Abbott says. Terra Spice – a producer of original and custom blend spices – opened in January 2002 to satisfy a niche market in restaurants that Abbott felt was overlooked. Chefs spend hours finding the best produce and meats for dishes in their restaurants, so Abbott tried to fill a niche by providing top-of-the-line spices and blends with Terra Spice, he says.
Terra Spice stocks and sells only the cleanest and most natural products available, catering to culinary professionals around the world. Products are packaged to order and are available in restaurant containers, bulk, case sizes and retail packaging. “We want to continue to blend the same way we do now,” Abbott says. “We want to maintain that feel of a small company and really focus on the integrity of products.”
Terra Spice opened its new facility in South Bend, Ind., in December after searching for the perfect location for the past seven years. The new space replaced its previous 1,200-square-foot facility. The new 4,500-square-foot building sits on 19 acres, which gives the company space for further expansion when needed. “What we are doing now is harder than it was when starting the company,” Abbott admits. “We are gutting the house and building from the ground up and laying the foundation so in 10 years, I’ll be glad I did it now.”
The new facility was completely renovated to provide the best air quality for the spices. Insulation keeps the building at 68 F year-round and separate air filtration systems were installed for the ingredient and packing areas. “We concentrated most on the quality of the air and the layout for receiving, manipulating and storing our product, which has to happen in a nice, flowing circle,” Abbott explains. A receiving bay was built with two overhead doors and a 12-ton air unit, which helps maintain constant temperature throughout the facility even when the doors open. “We will be able to receive product properly and not have the heat and humidity rushing in,” Abbott says. “It creates a better level of service and better product.”
Office space was also included for individual workstations. Each employee has his or her own desk, computer and phone to get work done with updated equipment and systems. “It’s my role as the business owner to give everyone the tools they need to do their jobs,” Abbott says. “I haven’t been doing that. The tool we needed was this building. We were pirates in a canoe on the high seas.”
There are only 10 employees at Terra Spice – including Abbott – but the team is focused on continued growth and success. Experienced chefs are hired to blend spices, answer phones to provide product information, consult with chefs purchasing and create new blends. “I can’t do everything and I think that the key and the thing that sets us apart is that we have a great team,” Abbott says. “We have an amazing crew of people working for us now from different walks and avenues of life.”
Every employee has worked on the production line and filled orders to understand the demand and learn the company’s products and systems. “It’s a lot like a kitchen – it’s pretty intense,” Abbott says. “Everyone goes through production before they do anything else. Training and making sure people are cross-trained so they can do more than one task is key. Every little piece of the puzzle counts.”
Terra Spice’s research and development focuses on formulating and reformulating spice blends. Following trends is a challenge for the company, Abbott admits, but its priority is flavor above all else. “We are always taking a pulse of trends in our personal lives [so] that it starts to translate into our products,” Abbott says. “Our identity is in the quality of our blends that are formulated differently than anyone else in the world. Trends come and go. We need to hang on to an identity that has staying power.”
Terra Spice’s business model is sustainable because of the new facility and growth can become a reality since the right tools are in place, Abbott says. The company continues to work on new products and may consider retail sales of its blends in the future. Before selling its creations at local supermarkets, Terra Spice wants to have a group of people in place who will create the perfect designs, blends and instructions for consumers’ use at home. “We have a product that has the potential to do well in the retail marketplace,” Abbott explains. “If we do, I want to have a foundation set up so we have appropriately exceeded customer expectations.”