consumers’ health. With the information
shooting across the Internet at lightning
speed — even if it’s not accurate — the
possibility of a company’s image being
tainted overnight is always a concern.
“Social media has exponentially
increased our risks. You or your customer’s
brand can be destroyed in one Tweet. It’s
not vetted,” Gottsacker said.
Keeping contaminants out of its products
is made even trickier by the fact that Wixon
sources about 65-70 percent of its base
ingredients — such as onion, garlic, pep-
per and soy — from other countries. The
company’s biggest suppliers include China,
Vietnam, India and Egypt.
The patchwork of regulatory systems
and uneven quality control can make this
process a daily gamble. Coming back to
cumin, Gottsacker says they’ve found
instances where peanuts were ground into
the spice to cut costs — a case of “eco-
War and unrest in the Middle East have
also changed the game for Wixon and can
frequently derail the supply chain. “We do
a lot with licorice and a lot can be sourced
from the Middle East,” he said. “But we see
constant disruptions from that region.”
Despite the challenges, the mood at
Wixon is very upbeat and the company has
new plans for expanding production soon.
Gottsacker is quick to remind that he thinks
“it’s still a fun business.”
In the Plant
Two words about Eric Putnam: Safety.
It’s his job, of course, as the food safety,
quality, and training systems manager. But
it’s clear that Putnam and the company
don’t just strive to implement safety procedures as much as they strive to create an
entire safety culture.
“Our safety motto is: We want you to go
home at least as safe and healthy as you
were when you came in,” Putnam said. “If
you go home even healthier, that’s fantas-
The writing is on the wall, literally, inside
Wixon’s plant, where several rooms display
a “Setup Performance” board with informa-
tion about quality issues, safety audits and
a record of injuries (it’s been years since
any noteworthy injury).
That type of tool also increases employ-
ee engagement, which has been a priority
for Putnam and the company’s manage-
ment team. “We’re having a big push for
employee empowerment right now,” he
said. “As managers we can say, ‘Do this, do
this,’ but instead we’re trying to go to the
employees and ask: ‘What works best for
The Wixon smell, of course, is every-
where, even as we head across the street
to the company’s R&D facilities and
In the lab, the folks in white coats play
with a giant chemistry set, including rooms
full of tiny vials, as they skillfully render different seasonings and flavors. Meanwhile,
outside the company’s culinary kitchen,
managers are gathered for a continuing
education class — what Putnam calls
another example of Wixon’s commitment to
Looking ahead, Gottsacker says the
company has big plans for new packing
equipment and a $5 million plant expansion. And the “Wixon smell” is sure to
hang over the company’s new digs.
So what exactly goes into the aroma?
According to Gottsacker, it’s a mix of pepper, oregano, fennel, onion and garlic. But
of course, with new flavors always in the
works, it changes every day.