People who love Colgate expect the same classic mint flavor every time they use our products. But to ensure every squeeze of toothpaste and every drop of mouthwash is as minty as the next, it takes a village — from farmers to “forensic” mint specialists — to make it all happen.
“I think many people would be surprised at how intricate the process is,” Bob Vogt, Senior Flavorist and Fellow at Colgate, said. As a flavorist, Vogt plays an important role in securing the consistent taste and smell of Colgate products.
The entire approach from start to finish is one that undoubtedly depends on the innovative team within Colgate — as well as our mint partners across the country — to create consistently first-rate products year after year. It’s an art and a science, and without both, the consistency of millions of products is in jeopardy.
Below, Vogt speaks to how we source our mint, the challenges his team faces with the unpredictability of each season, and the innovative processes they use to ensure that every product we produce is consistently Colgate time after time.
You have a very unique role as a flavorist at Colgate-Palmolive. Can you lead us through exactly what you do?
Generally, a flavorist is a trained position, starting out as an apprentice. You train on all facets of flavor components and ingredients, organic compounds and essential oils, botanicals, and more.
At Colgate-Palmolive, my team and I are responsible for taking regional mint oils and using them as tools to create mint flavors that consumers find pleasant. I’m responsible for maintaining the quality and consistency that is expected of that particular naturally-sourced ingredient from year to year. I work closely with Tracy Bariexca, a Principal Scientist in our R&D department, who analyzes the mint oils. As part of the process, she identifies and quantifies the components within the peppermint and spearmint oils and ensures they fit within our specifications.
The toothpaste or mouthwash that Colgate-Palmolive produces has the functionality to keep your teeth and mouth clean and healthy, and that’s important because a healthier future starts with a healthy mouth. Depending on which excipients or actives are in a particular oral care product to make it functional, it could interfere with the way that the consumer would perceive the way the product tastes. My job as a flavorist is not only to make it pleasant but to also mask some of the negative tastes associated with that.
You’ve described the mint procuring and testing process as very intricate. From a high level, can you explain the process from start to finish?
Every year we aim to keep a consistent taste using the new year’s mint oil to please the consumer’s palate. That all stems from working very closely with our mint oil suppliers, who work very closely with mint farmers that supply us with the mint we use to flavor our products.
We’re a part of an organization called the Mint Industry Research Council, which allows us to meet with farmers during the year. Oftentimes we’ll go to the actual fields and visit our farmers alongside our suppliers to have conversations about the crop that year. They’ve become an extended Colgate family in a way because we know them and have town hall meetings and luncheons together. We find out what’s on their mind and how they’re feeling about growing mint.
Over the years, we’ve looked at certain regions where mint is grown — typically from North America, specifically from the Midwest and the West Coast — and blended those region’s mint together to get what we feel is our optimal Colgate taste. That blending happens in our manufacturing facility in Burlington, New Jersey. There we ensure that the mint oils are consistent with our standards before commercial use.
How do you ensure the mint oil you’re receiving is of the utmost quality?
The suppliers that we work with receive thousands and thousands of drums from each region directly from farmers. They screen them all with a gas chromatograph and odor evaluations formulating several prototype blends. From there, these prototypes are sent to myself and Tracy, our Principal Scientist.
In our labs, Tracy reviews the analytical composition by looking at the profile of each of the samples that we received. I do organoleptic testing, where I smell and taste each sample in unflavored toothpaste and compare it to the previous year’s crops. We do the same thing with samples that are coming in from all those different regions for both spearmint and peppermint.
We also make prototypes of our finished blends to understand possible differences.
Sometimes we have to reject certain oils and work with our suppliers to find a resolution. These practices confirm our quality standards for these flavor ingredients.
Are there factors that can change how mint is produced year over year? How do you ensure consistency for a taste at such a large scale?
Every year the quality of the crop can be different based on Mother Nature. You can have a drought, you can have excess water, you could have more insects or pests that can affect the mint. These all have the power to change the chemical constitution of the mint oil we use.
For instance, oil composition in mint will change annually and we establish new specifications for each year’s crop. Factors such as how much sunshine the plant might get can be important. In this example, the amount of sunlight the plant is exposed to can change the way the plant photosynthesizes and how quickly it matures. This, in turn, can change the levels of certain compounds in that mint’s “fingerprint.”
It can be similar to a wine where you’re evaluating those nuances from year to year.
Can you give an example of when that actually happened?
One of the issues that our farmers have is the weeds that grow on the farm. Oftentimes, they put down herbicides to knock down the weeds. But if the fields do not have rain or irrigation in the right cycle, those herbicides fail to work properly, and then you can get weeds that grow up in the fields along with the mint. When it’s harvested at the end of the year, the weeds will get mixed in there and they can have a very noxious taste.
As flavorists, we can pick those up through odor and taste. We team up to talk about some of the evaluation differences and work together to determine acceptability.
It’s really quite incredible how much thought and care goes into extracting mint for Colgate’s products. Even after more than 20 years at Colgate, are you taken aback by it all?
I could talk for hours and hours about this. Sometimes consumers will use our products and say, “There’s really natural mint in this?” They’re really surprised that we dedicate time and effort to make this happen and the depth of what we do to give this naturality to our products.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.