Nut-free nuts? Cheese and biscuit lager? Omega Ingredients MD Steve Pearce talks the latest tastes, smells… and Cleopatra’s hair

Ever wondered what Cleopatra’s hair smelled like? Or what cheese & biscuit flavoured lager tastes like? Steve Pearce has.

As MD of Omega Ingredients, a growing force in the multi-billion-pound global flavours and fragrances industry, he’s synthesised the scent of the Egyptian queen’s hair - a combination of jasmine and bitter orange blossom - based on incense popular during her reign. And he brewed up the cheese & biscuit lager, along with chicken flavoured lime jelly, for 2010 TV programme ‘Stefan on Es’.

But molecular gastronomy this isn’t - not in the sense of combinations so obscure they’d only be found on a Blumenthal menu anyway. Pearce has something rather more mass market in mind.

“It’s the innovation we’re seeing in food and drink that drives this industry,” he explains. “It’s about creating that next big flavour. In the multiples, if a product is not benefiting the shelf space it will be lopped off. Manufacturers are always looking for the next big thing.”

And Omega, which boasts an annual turnover of about £2m and is growing at 30% year-on-year, aims to deliver it. The company has already created a “nut-free” nut flavouring that’s now being used by a leading cereal brand and in 2010 it pioneered the “fractioning” of tomatoes into four distinct flavours (fresh, ripe, juicy and cooked), a process which has been widened to other fruits and is now in use by a wide range of juice, pizza and prepared meal manufacturers.

At the moment Omega is developing a popcorn-flavoured milkshake for a major US supermarket. Pearce won’t say who though as his clients, which include major food manufacturers that supply all the major retailers, demand a level of secrecy worthy of a top spook. Those he will mention include Dairy Crest and Bottle Green Drinks, but he adds that all the major own-label food suppliers feature on his client list.

“It’s about creating the next big flavour. In the multiples, if a product is not benefiting the shelf space it will be lopped off”

Steve Pearce

“We work several steps back in the production process, going to clients and almost working as consultants, helping to solve their technical problems and create that next range of value-added products,” says Pearce, who claims that by concentrating on service as well as innovation, Omega is beating much bigger rivals to contracts. “We’ve gone head-to-head with them and won. For us it is about service. The customer really does want to be spoken to properly, hear from you and know there’s someone at the end of the phone.”

This double-pronged strategy seems to be paying off. Current projects include the development of all-natural rose extracts for a Jubilee chocolates collection, the launch of a Pimm’s-style herbal liqueur and the creation of flavour products from waste from Adnams brewery’s production of vodka and gin.

Pearce is now looking to find a market for these new products, potentially in the bakery sector. “It’s our job to find innovative ways to use flavours and aromas to create something really ground-breaking. If we can use what is normally seen as waste, then so much the better,” adds Pearce.

Not all of his innovations will make the mainstream, of course. Cheese & biscuit lager won’t be replacing Stella at the pumps and the aroma of wet dog - produced by Pearce for a children’s book insert - is unlikely to find a market any time soon. But many other innovations will reach wider audiences, as nut-free nuts and fractioned tomatoes have in recent months.

You never know, Eau d’Cleopatra could be coming to a perfume counter near you soon.