Gum Technology Corp., a soon to be new arrival in Oro Valley, provides far more for consumers to chew on than the name implies.

Gum, in the context of the company's name, refers to an element found in trees and plants that extends the shelf life of food products, helps food products hold their moisture longer and serves as a food texturizer and flavor enhancer.

The gums are what keep your burritos and tortillas from bursting in the microwave, your cupcakes from falling apart, your salad dressings and cream cheese moist, the cocoa in your chocolate milk from settling to the bottom of the glass and prevents the freezer burn that often occurs when food is taken out of the freezer.

In the 21 years since Gum's been in business, the company's revenues have grown from about $250,000 annually to what are now approaching the double digit millions, serving such companies as General Foods, Hunt-Wesson, Kellogg, Nestle and other food makers who process foods for such chains as Taco Bell, Burger King and McDonald's, said company President Allen Freed.

It's a very large field most people know nothing about, said Freed.

The company sells directly to food makers and food processors. It has production facilities in Newark, N.J. and Chantilly, Va., and about 40 sales people across the country, but its 1,500 square-foot headquarters office has been at 509 W. Wetmore Road since 1995.

The company plans to move into a 12,000 square-foot building on Vistoso Commerce Loop off of Rancho Vistoso Boulevard in Oro Valley by August or September. Staffing there is scheduled to increase from six employees to 11, mostly laboratory and some clerical workers, Freed said, but within three to five years the company also may be adding a strictly manufacturing facility ranging in size from 30,000 to 40,000 square feet that would double again the number of employees.

The Oro Valley facility will include research and product development facilities for all Gum products, with about $1.55 million in new production equipment for what Freed referred to as "value added" products, those products containing gums that do things other gums can't and thus enables the company to charge more for those products.

These "value added" products make up about 70 percent of the company's total volume, but the specific types of value added products that will be manufactured at the new facility will account for only about 5 percent of total sales, he said.

Freed, who just turned 50, received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Queens College at the City College of New York and went to work for the Hoechst-Celanese Corp., focusing on modifications in food starch and gums.

Though food "was not my thing," Freed said, because it was discovered that he had "extremely sensitive" taste buds and an aptitude for developing food products, he drifted away from the role of scientist and more toward the area of product development as head of product application for the Hoechst-Celanese specialty products division.

In 1978, Freed started his own company, called Foodworks, a consultant firm focusing on product development.

"A company might come to us with a barbecue sauce, for example, and say it can only make five gallons at a time but wants to make 1,000 gallons, or 10,000 gallons, or say a product will only last on a shelf for five days and and we want it to last for a year," Freed said, adding that they come to Gum to get that done. "Answering such questions became our focus," he said.

Four years after Foodworks was founded, Gum was started and the two companies ran concurrently until Gum's move to Tucson in 1995.

Having the company's headquarters and production facilities so far apart is first and foremost a lifestyle thing for Freed and his wife Sheryl, a former teacher who now fills the role of office manager.

Freed also has a sister living in SaddleBrooke and his parents moved into Sun City Vistoso not long ago.

He makes the point of his parents being near to the new headquarters kiddingly in saying that he's got to make sure the new facility preserves views of the Santa Catalina Mountains or face their wrath.

"Most people say Oro Valley is restrictive" in terms of an ability to build, Freed said. "But I like that because it adds more value to my building. I've got no complaints. I guess I could be a poster child for the good story of Oro Valley."

To relocate production facilities here also would be a costly move, Freed said, because most of the company's gum is imported from locations as far ranging as India, Pakistan, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Chile, Norway, the Sudan, Asia, Japan and China and unloaded in New Jersey. To have to ship product here first and then back to the East and West Coast would be prohibitive, he said.

The company's philosophy, Freed said, is to offer product development technology as a service to customers rather than just selling commodity items. "We see ourselves as a service company first and foremost," he said.

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