There’s something in the air, down this quiet industrial street in Bromley.
With 100 tonnes of mussels being converted into high-value powder and oil here per week, it’s the smell of ingenuity and opportunity. And a hint at how Aroma got its name.
Ben Winters was a 16-year-old growing up in post World War II Holland when his parents emigrated to New Zealand for a fresh start.
“My parents hijacked me and put me on the ship to New Zealand,” he jokes.
“My father was an industrial chemist in Rotterdam and when we arrived in 1960, we started making essences and flavourings for ice cream and soft drink and scents for perfumes and that’s where the name Aroma came from.”
After finishing school, Ben Sr joined the business full time and went on to take over the reins before his son, Ben Jr, eventually joined him 24 years ago. Together they have built one of the industry’s most successful nutraceutical producers. But along the way, they’ve created some of the country’s most iconic flavours too.
“In the early days, we were making soft drink flavourings and then we got into creating malt extract and were supplying Griffin’s biscuits. We also made the sticky layer between the Shrewsbury biscuits,” Ben Jr said.
“For a while we also used to grow garlic and had an assembly line producing equestrian helmets.
“While I was at school, I spent my holidays working on the garlic farm and assembling horse riding helmets.
“It’s pretty funny. Occasionally you still see guys riding around on old push bikes wearing helmets that we put together.”
And then one day a strange request rumbled through on the trusty old fax machine.
“In the early 70s, a soft drink company who was one of our good customers asked me to find some mussel powder,” Ben Sr said.
“I said ‘sure!’ but I didn’t know where to start.”
And so began a 50 year journey that today sees Aroma supplying over a dozen branded marine-derived functional foods, supplements and pet products to markets all over the world. It started with mussels from Marlborough, which they had freeze dried in Invercargill and shipped back to them in Christchurch for packaging.
Soon after, the Invercargill company they were working with shut down their freeze drying division and the Winters bought the equipment from the freezing works and shipped it back to their warehouse in Bromley.
First it was just the one drier, but as demand for the powder grew in the USA and Europe, Aroma gradually expanded and today has eight driers running around the clock.
“Greenshell mussel powder has long been our hero product,” Ben Jr said. “It’s really been driven by customer demand. The product works so well that they keep coming back for more,” he said.
“We’ve got the clinical studies to verify that it’s got very high anti inflammatory properties – and that’s not just for joints. That could be brain, heart, kidneys and gut health.
“They call inflammation the silent killer because it fatigues your body and puts a lot of stress on it.
“So if you can combat the inflammation you’re going to live a longer, healthier life.”
Demand has grown in line with the global mega trends towards natural healthy products and aging populations. The same trends have also sparked increased demand for mussel oil.
“Where most fish oils contain the 2 Omega-3s (DHA and EPA), our mussel oil has a total of 30 essential fatty acids. And it’s so potent that only a very small dose is required for it to be effective,” he said.
But Ben Jr was quick to point out that the two are not competing products.
“Both products are very, very good, but are used for different purposes,” he said.
“The oil is essentially an Omega-3 supplement where the powder is concentrated whole mussels and has proteins and natural chondroitin as well as a whole lot of other ingredients that really make it a complete food supplement. It has such a wide profile of amino acids that it really is a superfood.
“The oil format is more bio available and works its way into the blood stream faster so it’s fast acting, where powder goes through the gut to get into the system,” Ben Jr said.
While there’s a number of oil producers around the country, Aroma is one of only two to use a CO2 extracting process and under the direction of General Manager John Gallagher, is in the process of building a new plant that will triple their production.
To further differentiate their product, Aroma has branded their oil GlycOmega Oil, which is sold in capsule form in the USA and on home shopping networks in South Korea where it is sought after as a concentrated source of essential fatty acids.
To keep up with demand and ensure supply of raw materials into the future, Aroma has created a farming operation, invested in marine farms and vessels, developed a purpose built processing facility in Havelock which opened earlier this year and commissioned a new harvester from local engineering firm Aimex.
“Things have progressed really quickly since we began diversifying and getting our own farms,” Ben Jr said.
“We haven’t had time to sit back and think about it.
“But it’s very satisfying to know you’re making an excellent quality product and putting it out into the markets and seeing it work. We’re helping people and their pets get their quality of life back and that’s something we can be proud of.
“But we’re conscious not to rely too heavily on Greenshell mussels and are therefore looking at other options including by-products from marine farming like blue mussels and seaweed.
“We also make an oyster powder that goes into China as a “performance enhancer” for men in traditional Chinese medicine. It also goes into Thailand to make oyster sauces and flavours.”
“We’re always looking at other products we can extract, and I think we have a very bright future.”
With this combination of innovation, smart investment and commitment, the future Aroma for this family-run business will be the sweet smell of success.