When Joseph Slawek was a student at St. Patrick High School on Chicago’s Northwest side, he’d hop the city bus in his Portage Park neighborhood and travel three and a half miles to a job at Food Materials Corporation, a flavors manufacturer located at California Avenue and Irving Park Road.
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Young Joe Slawek’s entry level duties varied from sweeping floors to helping extract vanilla from vanilla beans.
“Food Materials Corporation was a flavor company with a particular strength in vanilla,” Slawek relates, noting that the Windy City company was eventually purchased by the New York-based International Flavors and Fragrances, Inc.
During those early days in the plant, the impressionable Slawek never dreamed he would not only work at Food Materials Corp., as it was familiarly called, for 21 years, but that he would one day establish his own exemplary, globally respected, award-winning flavors company.
In 1987, Slawek boldly and enthusiastically pursued his dream of developing what he calls “a new kind of flavor company.” He envisioned building an organization that could compete with the largest international flavor companies across a range of market segments, but also connect with customers by developing close relationships in a congenial, small company fashion.
Meet Slawek’s brainchild, FONA International winner of the coveted 2016 Food Quality & Safety Award. This prestigious honor from Food Quality & Safety magazine recognizes the dedication and achievement of an organization that upholds the highest food standards supported by quantifiable results.
“Our founding vision was to be the high-tech, high-touch alternative to business as usual in the flavor industry,” Slawek says. “Our approach to serving the needs of food and beverage manufacturers has always been to combine world-class expertise, technology innovation, and quality programs. To that we apply entrepreneurial energy and values-driven culture to deliver unmatched service, speed, quality, and flexibility.”
Under Slawek’s leadership, first as a salesman, president, and CEO, and now as board chairman and CEO, FONA International creates and produces flavors (some 2,329 different, unique flavors in the 12 months leading up to August 2016) for many of the largest food, beverage, and nutritional companies in the world. FONA offers flavor solutions for the confection, grain, beverage, performance nutrition, over the counter, and emerging markets from its state-of-the-art 33-acre headquarters campus in historic Geneva, Ill.
The truly global FONA also has locations in Canada (for sales, flavor creation, prototyping/applications, redundant lab, manufacturing, and distribution), China (which includes a customer innovation center, customer training center, sales, flavor creation, prototyping and applications, sensory testing, distribution through all of APAC, and manufacturing), the U.K. (which features sensory testing, manufacturing, and distribution), and Mexico (home of logistics and distribution for all of Latin America). FONA also has strategic partnerships in India and Australia.
Top Priority: Food Safety
“By the time I founded FONA, I knew that food safety was the top priority for us as an organization,” Slawek says. “By that time in my career, I knew that our very existence required that we commit our resources to safe, high-quality, audited facilities, and which, by extension, means safe products. At FONA, we have been, and will always be, dedicated to food safety as an essential principle.”
This dedication is spelled out emphatically in FONA’s mission statement:
We strive for excellence in all endeavors. We set our goals to achieve total customer satisfaction by delivering premium quality specification-conforming products and exceptional service, second to none. On this we will not compromise.