Credit the Finns for hanging in there and mapping out an orderly exit strategy.
Their cholesterol-busting manufacturing gambit in Dorchester County didn’t pan out as expected. Yet they stuck with their original $22 million investment for 15 years, through thick and thin, including a trying recession.
Now, a Tar Heel State food-additive company sees a promising and broader-based second act for the Raisio Staest US Inc. plant in Summerville.
“The five-year goal is to have that plant operating seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” said Dr. David Peele, president of Merry Hill, N.C.-based Avoca Inc. “That’s what we’re all working for.”
Owned by New Jersey’s Pharmachem Laboratories Inc., Peele’s privately held company acquired the 10,000-square-foot Deming Way factory from its Finnish owners a few weeks ago.
The financial terms were not disclosed.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way for the ambitious Finns.
Life-sciences giant Raisio Group had discovered and patented a process to convert pine tree pulp into a cholesterol-absorbing compound that could be added to foods like margarine and mayonnaise. It had high hopes for the local factory in the late 1990s, when it was looking to make a breakthrough with diet- and health-conscious U.S. consumers.
It even inked a deal with drug and consumer-goods giant Johnson & Johnson Inc. to be its exclusive marketing agent.
The additive had been an early hit in Europe, where Raisio trademarked it as Benecol, which also was the brand name of a cholesterol-lowering spread.
But on this side of the pond, possibly for cultural or gastronomical reasons, Americans never developed as big an appetite for it as the Scandinavian company had anticipated.
Raisio said as much in announcing the April 18 sale, de- scribing the Summerville factory “as a reserve plant with low volumes.”
Peele of Avoca sees a fresh opportunity to ramp up production and increase employment.
“We’ve known about that plant for a number of years,” said Peele, a folksy-sounding agronomist who’s been president of the ingredient-additive company since 2003.
When the Summerville business came up for sale, Avoca was interested, in part, because the company’s Albemarle Sound factory about 60 miles east of Rocky Mount is operating at full throttle.
“We’ve run out of production capacity,” Peele said.
Also, it seemed a natural fit since much of the manufacturing equipment at the North Carolina and South Carolina plants is similar, he said
As Peele sees it, the Summerville site was underutilized because it churned out only one product.
“Raisio saw it as a single-purpose plant,” he said.
Avoca will take a broader-based approach. It will make its own cholesterol-lowering substances, which fall into the “phytosterols” category.
It also plans to manufacture other additives at its new Dorchester County outpost.
Peele said those probably will include botanically extracted “nutriceuticals” that go into over-the-counter cholesterol-busting dietary tablets and capsules.
“We see a multipurpose chem- ical facility that we can run either for food products or nutritional supplements,” Peele said. “Our mission in life is to fill that plant up.”
Contact John P. McDermott at 937-5572.