Robb Caseria is the Managing Director of Videka. Videka is a joint venture between Symrise, a multi-national flavors & fragrances company, and Kalamazoo’s own Kalsec, a natural food & beverage ingredients firm. Videka has called the Innovation Center home since the beginning of the joint venture, which started in July, 2019.
Let’s start with an easy question, Robb. What does Videka do?
“Videka Solutions LLC sells natural food protection solutions into the pet food industry and other related channels. Our products help keep pet food safe (reducing oxidation, eliminating bacteria) and help keep pet food tasting fresh (eliminating staleness and extending shelf life attributes) and helps keep pet food looking great (keeping color and texture for longer). And we pride ourselves on our customization for numerous applications and our innovative solutions (just as many as the #1 competitive gorilla in the industry).”
What excites you most about what your company does?
“I like what Videka – and its direct competitors – do for our customers. We help make pet food better and we ensure that it is safe for consumption. We are on the front end of eliminating recalls. Pet parents and pet food manufacturers rely on us to keep their pets (your pets) safe and healthy. And I like what position Videka plays in our industry. We are a challenger. And so we keep things competitive and honest. Our largest competitor is almost 100 times our size and yet we have as large of an innovative portfolio which entices the Mars’, Nestle’s, Darlings’, and Blue Buffalo’s of the industry – to be our customers.”
What is your background? How did you become interested in what you’re doing now?
“I’ve been in CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry my entire 30-something year career. After two long stints at Pepsico and Coors (marketing, sales, operations, procurement, international general management), where I started and led 4 different joint ventures, I moved to more entrepreneurial settings where I led Castor & Pollux Organix Petfood (sold to Nestle) as CEO and started Natural Food Works, as co-founder and CEO. From there, it was a natural (pardon the pun) that I join the Videka joint venture startup, as I am able to bring CPG, general mgmt., pet food, international, and joint venture experience to our opportunity here.”
If you could have dinner with one person, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
“I’d invite Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird to dinner and challenge them to a 2-on-2 basketball game, with the losing team buying dessert and drinks afterwards.”
What do you find most challenging about leading a start-up company?
“With a startup, there’s never enough cash. This is what keeps me up at night. But with this joint venture start up, we have two corporate parents – Kalsec Inc. and Symrise LLC. Kalsec is headquartered here in Kalamazoo. And they are privately held, very innovative in food ingredients, but keep a low profile in the industry. Symrise is a French and German concern, that is a world leader in palatants (think seasonings for pet food), panalis (think innovative dog & cat food consumption research), egg protein (think powders and liquids for baking pet and human food). They are private equity run and do not keep a low profile. The interaction of the two in Board meetings is fun and challenging. Besides that, our biggest challenge is penetrating large customers who are used to working with other big suppliers, as we often get asked – “can you really supply what we need?”
What is the most rewarding aspect about being an entrepreneur?
“It has been said often that the downsides of being an entrepreneur is that you are always poor and you are always just finishing raising money/raising money/just getting ready to raise money. The most rewarding aspects is taking something from nothing and making it real. Videka now has 50 customers, sales in 3 continents, and nearly $10 million in annual sales, all in just about 4 years.”
What do you like most about being a client of the Innovation Center?
“We love being down the hall from many entrepreneurs who value science and getting innovation right. We love being near Western Michigan and Michigan State (where our most recent new hire just graduated, after being an intern with us!). I have to admit that our company’s mission pales in comparison to many of our neighbors at the Innovation Center. But we were just awarded our first brand trademark (last month), so we working hard to catch up. The only thing we’re missing is a direct set of stairs from the 1st floor to the 2nd floor, so we can more closely interact with our parent’s (Kalsec’s) antimicrobial lab and teammates, as they are right above us.”
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
“Even though we invested in Lurch (our remote floor cleaning help), we love the job that Sue does for our 2 labs and office space. And we think Sandra & Madelyn do an incredible job in creating an innovative and collaborate culture in the Innovation Center (that is, until some of the general use equipment goes missing). Videka is proud and very fortunate to be a part of the Innovation Center. Please stop by and say hi (we always have some dog treats that we’re doing some testing on).”
To learn more about Videka, please visit https://www.videkasolutions.com/.