Business: Santa Cruz Sentinel Sunday, August 15, 2004
Research scientist turns taste test into natural mint candy
By GWEN MICKELSON SENTINEL STAFF WRITER SCOTTS VALLEY
Linda Meltzer, a senior research scientist with Threshold Enterprises, shows off a box of her Meltzer's Puremints
For six years, Linda Meltzer worked on weekends and around her fulltime job to form a company that started as a taste test. Meltzer, a senior research scientist and nutritionist at Threshold Enterprises, a manufacturer and distributor of vitamins and nutritional supplements, said she came upon the idea for her Meltzer's Puremints mint candies while trying to perfect the flavoring of a sublingual form of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone and antioxidant said to aid sleep, among other things.
"I needed to test and taste the product, but I didn't want to test the melatonin because I would fall asleep," she said. To test the flavor without the effects, she ended up with a minty placebo. A mint lover who was frequently disappointed with what she found on the market, Meltzer thought she had something. She approached the owner of Threshold Enterprises, Ira Goldberg, with the idea of producing the mints. Goldberg approved, but wanted to keep the candies separate from the vitamin and nutritional supplement company. He encouraged Meltzer to run with the project on her own. Meltzer set about sourcing her peppermint and other ingredients, formulating, testing and tasting. In April, Meltzer's Puremints, natural candies that include herbs like parsley, chlorella and ginseng, hit store shelves in two flavors, peppermint and ginger.
Only in California
Meltzer's road to entrepreneurship could be posted with signs reading, "Only in California." After leaving Richmond to attend UC Santa Cruz in 1983 for pre-med and environmental studies, Meltzer, 39, interrupted her schooling to move to San Francisco and delve into martial arts, Zen Buddhism and Japanese language studies, while working full-time in a vitamin store.
“I spent six years developing the formula, sourcing materials and zeroing in on the best taste. It was time-consuming and difficult, because you had to zero in on fine nuances. It's like wine.”
LINDA MELTZER, MELTZER'S PUREMINTS CREATOR
Always interested in nutrition, health and environmental matters, Meltzer says the vitamin store job led to a deeper involvement in the vitamin and supplement business. Returning to UC Santa Cruz in 1990, Meltzer earned her degree in biology, focusing on premed biology, and worked in labs on campus. After graduating with honors, she became a certified massage therapist. "I wanted to be a doctor who approached medicine from an alternative standpoint," Meltzer said.
Not quite ready to go to medical school, Meltzer decided to respond to an ad in the paper for a lab researcher in the quality control department at Threshold. When an opportunity arose, she moved from quality control into her current job in formulation, becoming a specialist in flavor and doing research and development of the more complicated formulas. She also became certified as a nutritionist.
A matter of taste
Still a full-time employee of Threshold, Meltzer works for her company on her own time, and has financed Meltzer's Puremints entirely herself. Threshold acts as her contract manufacturer and packager, and other employees of Threshold sometimes function as taste testers. Meltzer's fiance, Dale Nemecek, the manufacturing supervisor at Threshold, also played an integral role in manufacturing the mints and overseeing their production.
“I'd love to be a major player in the field. It's scary, but it's exciting. I know the product is excellent, and the packaging is beautiful. It's just a matter of making it happen.”
LINDA MELTZER, MELTZER'S PUREMINTS CREATOR
A product design firm in Scotts Valley helped Meltzer design her packaging, using photographs of mint leaves she took. She also worked closely with a local Web developer to design her Web site. "I spent six years developing the formula, sourcing materials and zeroing in on the best taste," Meltzer said. "It was time-consuming and difficult, because you had to zero in on fine nuances. It's like wine." The mint she uses comes from the Pacific Northwest, which she says is as famous for its peppermint oil as Napa Valley is for its wine. The ginger-flavored mints are made with ginger root and natural flavor. The mints are made without animal products or preservatives. Both the peppermint oil and ginger root and flavor contain nothing artificial, according to Meltzer. Also, the peppermint oil, ginger root and natural ginger flavor used in Meltzer's mints are not produced using propylene glycol, a solvent used in flavor and flavor oil manufacturing. "Most other mints on the market are not entirely natural, are blended with preservatives or artificial flavors, or are too bitter," said Meltzer.
Meltzer's Puremints come in two varieties: organic peppermint and organic ginger mints.
Field of mint
Before and after work, and on weekends, Meltzer puts time into her fledgling company, marketing her product and getting it intostores. Locally, the mints are available at New Leaf Community Markets, Shopper's Corner, Deluxe Foods, Scotts Valley Market, Ben Lomond Market, Costanoa Coastal Lodge & Camp and skin care and cosmetic store Farmacy in downtown Santa Cruz, retailing in a range of $3-3.30.
Meltzer also has gained placement in the Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe in Big Sur and in the gift shop at the Post Ranch Inn, also in Big Sur, which last year was rated the No. 1 hotel in North America by Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards. "They're doing well so far, without much promotion," said Jason Morton, grocery buyer at New Leaf in Capitola. Morton said the store has carried the mints for about three weeks, and that he hopes to sell about six tins per day.
Sales have been good, according to Meltzer, who also says she has big plans for the company. "I'd love to be a major player in the field," she said. "It's scary, but it's exciting. I know the product is excellent, and the packaging is beautiful. It's just a matter of making it happen." This year, she hopes to sell 10,000 tins per month, for gross sales of about $15,000 monthly. She says she expects to make back her investment in the company over about a 11/2-year period. Stores already have asked her to come out with new flavors, suggesting cinnamon and lemon, and smaller containers. She's thinking of adding spearmint, wintergreen and no-sugar varieties. Eventually, Meltzer says she'd like to work for her company full-time. "I've always had ideas about doing business," she said. "If I didn't do it, I'd regret it. It's so easy not to do something because you're afraid."
Contact Gwen Mickelson at Mckkelson@santacruzsentinel.com