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VIDEO: Essential oil firm is a hidden Treatt

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From top food and drink brands to well known cleaning goods, it is highly likely you have used ingredients supplied by Bury St Edmunds company Treatt.

Employing 175 people in the town, the company creates essential oils, flavourings and perfumes used in products all over the world.

But the firm, although turning over around £80million a year, sits very much in the background in the industry – working behind the scenes.

Raw natural oils, from citrus fruits, herbs, spices and plants, are carefully analysed and tested in the firm’s laboratories before they are distilled and separated into their constituent parts.

These essential oils are then reblended into flavourings and ingredients used in food products, beverages, cosmetics, perfumes and cleaning products.

Charlotte Catignani, Treatt’s research and development manager, said: “We get the crude orange oil, take everything apart and then put it all back together again.

“First we use gas chromatography to analyse for molecular mass and identify what we have in the oil.

“It is a nifty piece of kit.

“Orange oil, for example, is really a mix of more than 200 different substances.

“The machine separates everything out and gives a sample that can be smelt.

“The nose is actually much more sensitive than the Gas Chronograph and can detect very small changes in the molecules.

“Even if you add one more carbon molecule to a substance it will smell completely different”

Once the oil has been analysed, the firm use a pilot still to make larger batches.

If this is successful, the oil is treated in the company’s large stills, capable of distilling four tonnes of raw oil at a time.

Safety plays a big part when scaling up production as many essential oils are highly flammable.

‘Spark free’ zones are in place anywhere oil is being treated in bulk, with all electronic devices banned.

The oil is heated in a vacuum to lower its boiling point to distil the mix gently, increasing the quality of the essential oils while saving money and reducing the firm’s carbon footprint.

But Charlotte says separating the oil’s constituents is a very tricky business.

She said: “We are not dealing with chemicals at the factory, it is all natural substances.

“Essential oils are never the same.

“Even from the same sources, the time of year the crop was harvested, the weather that year - it all affects the oil.

“That’s why we need to constantly test in our laboratory and make smaller batches.

“The great thing about what we do is there is no waste, every part of the fruit is being used for something.

“The fruit and juice will be eaten, the oils and zest will go to make essential oils – even the pith is used as animal feed.

“We don’t want to waste anything. It is about looking to get added value from raw products.”

The factory, on Northern Way, has the sweet aroma of orange wafting through its halls.

But John Boddington, Treatt’s technical director, said after a while working there, you don’t notice it.

He added: “The orange smell is much better than some of the other essential oils we create.

“One oil, buchu, which is used in very small concentrations as a blackcurrant flavouring, smells like tom cats when you distil it.

“But you would use it at only one part in a thousand in a drink.”

Food safety is a paramount priority in the factory.

Staff and visitors to the site are required to wear lab coats, safety specs, hair nets and beard snoods covering their faces to reduce the risk of contamination.

“Although when the beard snoods came in, most of the staff went clean shaven within the month,” said John.

Nick Evans, Treatt’s director of sales, said the market’s increased appetite for low sugar food and drink has helped boost the business.

“We supply to more than 90 countries around the world,” he said.

“In the drinks market especially there is currently a drive towards lower sugar in beverages.

“Take honey, for example. We take honey and create a honey extract.

“With that you get a sweet-tasting drink with low sugar and low calories.”

Nick said the company was working with farmers in Kenya to help them establish sustainable farms producing the raw materials for essential oils.

The firm’s Earthoil division worked closely with the Kenyan community, investing in the area to promote fair business.

“We are very proud of it and will continue to invest,” said Nick.

But Treatt is also trying to make a difference closer to home.

At the end of the month it is presenting cheques for £1,000 each to Upbeat Heart Support Group, Friends of West Suffolk Hospital, St Nicholas Hospice and East Anglian Children’s Hospices.

To find out more about Treatt visit www.treatt.com

 

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