As the founder and creator of Muscle Milk, Greg Pickett helped make protein drinks palatable for mainstream consumers. In his latest venture, Pickett wants to elevate taste profiles across the beverage spectrum.
Approximately two years after selling Cytosport, the parent company of Muscle Milk, to Hormel Foods for $450 million, Pickett launched Flavor Insights, a flavor innovation and product development firm.
The new company operates out of a 111,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art production facility in Benicia, Calif. and retains the core team behind Cytosport, including Pickett’s son, Michael, and daughter, Nikki Brown. Michael Pickett was a former president and CEO of Cytosport, while Brown was the company’s CMO. Both continued working for the company for two years after the sale to Hormel to assist with the transition. Pete Wasko, who was the vice president of R&D and senior flavorist for Cytosport for eight years, also made the jump.
Pickett believes Flavor Insights is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of both early-stage and established companies because of its formulaic expertise and experience on the brand side of the business.
“Because we really distinguished and broadened the appeal of [functional] beverages with Muscle Milk, we think we understand what customers are going through when innovating and in their new product development process,” he said. “We’ve been where they’re at.”
Amid the beverage industry’s overarching tilt toward health and wellness, Flavor Insights is focused on providing innovative flavor solutions for natural, organic, and better-for-you drinks.
“Customers are changing,” Pickett said. “They want cleaner labels. They want more natural, more organic and the other value drivers of their choices, like food safety, sustainability, Kosher, Halal, vegan. Those are all starting to weigh in and make a bigger difference on the selection of better-for-you, more functional beverages.”
The company’s manufacturing facility produces several flavor formats, including powder, liquid and spray dry. Pickett is particularly proud of the plant’s spray dry capabilities, in which flavor is atomized into a stream of hot air and recovered as a powder, and touts Flavor Insights as one of a handful of companies on the West Coast offering the service. The plant also operates an onsite R&D lab designed to assist clients with concepts that they can commercialize and scale.
Pickett also pointed to the proximity of Flavor Insights’ location in Northern California as a cost advantage for customers exporting to the Asia Pacific market. However, it’s his belief that the company’s keen understanding of how to make beverages — particularly those made with burdensome ingredients — taste good is the critical point of differentiation among flavor providers.
“We changed what protein tasted like,” Pickett said. “And we broadened its consumer acceptance dramatically because of that. That’s what we did best. Our mission now is to really try to become an innovative partner to provide additional expertise to our customers.”