With a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a lack of desire to continue to medical school, a young David Dafoe returned home to Cincinnati in 1984 to contemplate his next step. “My parents told me to get a job,” he says, “and a mentor of mine set me up with a job at Fries & Fries, a company now known as Givaudan [the largest flavor company in the world]. So I ended up in the flavored beverage industry. Turns out, I have a great sense of taste and smell.”
His first beverage project in product development: working on the design and flavor of California Coolers—talk about capitalizing on one’s natural strengths. Next up was a move to Kentucky to work on Jack Daniels’ Country Cocktails (remember Lynchburg Lemonade?), where he remained for five years before starting his own company in 1992.
“We initially called it Pro-Liquitech, but that didn’t fly, so we changed it to Flavorman,” he says of the two-person consulting business that started in a two-bedroom condominium, moved to a small commercial space a few months later, and is now celebrating 25 years of making people’s beverage ideas a reality. (His original collaborator has since moved on to an East Coast flavor company.)
The company now has a sister company, the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, which is home to Moonshine University, Greasemonkey Distillery, and Challenge Bottling; both are based in in downtown Louisville, Ky.
“We’re the Willie Wonka factory of beverage development,” says Dafoe. “It’s a one-of-a-kind, one-stop shop—the only one in the world that does everything in one place.”
Flavorman helps develop any beverage idea, including sodas, energy drinks, enhanced water, malt beverages, ciders, and spirits. Clients—which span from entrepreneurial individuals to some of the largest spirits producers in the world—first come to the company with an idea, and a conversation takes place that identifies their specific needs and wants, including flavor, looks, ingredients and to whom the product will be marketed.
The idea is to create a recipe for a commercial beverage, also known as a formulation, that meets FDA guidelines and can be consistently duplicated. “We focus entirely on the technical side of the business,” says Dafoe. “We don’t do sales, marketing or distribution. This ensures we aren’t competing internally with clients, and it also keeps things simple and honest.”
Once an agreement is signed, Flavorman develops several product prototypes and sends them to the client. “The first samples are sent with a tasting kit with instructions on how to taste, information on shelf life and the like,” says Dafoe. “We’re looking for feedback. It usually takes three to five iterations before the ‘This is it’ moment arrives.”
When the final formulation is reached, 100 sample products are delivered, which can be used for investor meetings and initial marketing. It’s then time to scale up for retail production, after which the custom-blended Flavorman ingredients are sent to the client’s co-packing facility, which batches and packages the final product. When possible, the beverage can be manufactured and bottled at Challenge Bottling in the Flavorman building, keeping the entire process in-house.
“Most projects are completed in three to four months,” says Dafoe. “The average cost for a project is around $16,000; it’s a flat fee that isn’t based on time,” he adds.
Bottom line? Flavorman can take any beverage idea and help turn it into a successful product, providing all resources necessary along the way. So, what do you want to create today?