Sweet on Greensboros Mother Murphys

Triad company provides flavoring for everything from cakes and cookies to liquors and doughnuts

Cory Lavalette—
Mother Murphy's in Greensboro has been providing flavoring for products likecake

GREENSBORO — Whether you’re indulging in a moist slice of cake, munching on your favorite snack cookie or looking to fight off a cold, you’ve probably experienced one of Mother Murphy’s sweet flavors.The family owned and operated Greensboro flavor manufacturer has been helping companies make their products tastier for 70 years, and CEO David Murphy — a part of the second of three generations involved in the business — has been there for 42 of them.”We’re probably in about five of the aisles in the grocery store,” Murphy said. “And we do everything from ice cream to drinks to cakes, cookies, doughnuts, breads, candies and cough suppressants.”Mother Murphy’s sells its products throughout the United States and in 38 countries, employing more than 120 people between its Greensboro site and a 2,000-square foot bakery in Dallas where it helps its clients develop new products using its custom flavors.”If you’re working on a new cinnamon bun cookie, and you want someone to help you develop that product, we have a guy down there,” Murphy said. “Dean Casper, who is one of the best baking guys in the country, he will help develop the product using our flavor and he will turn the technology over. He’ll say, ‘Here’s the formula, here’s how you do it, here’s what you bake it at.'”But the heart of the business is in Greensboro, where flavor chemists develop signature tastes that are created in several different forms — such as liquids, powders and longer-shelf-life sprays — on site to give customers the signature, consistent tastes their consumers expect.”That’s what you buy for: if it tastes the same all the time and it’s good and it’s consistent, people like that,” Murphy said. “A lot of flavors are to make products that are found in nature more consistent because you have crop variations in years because of temperatures and different things. And flavors help make them consistent for the consumer.”Speaking of crops, Mother Murphy’s is perhaps best known for its pure vanilla extract — one of two flavors, along with chocolate liquor, specified by law.”Vanilla’s the No. 1 flavor in the world,” Murphy said. “The vanilla bean comes from the orchid plant, and they’re grown within 10 degrees of the equator. And they’re hand-pollinated, so it’s very labor intensive. We make one of the highest-quality pure vanillas in the business.”Pure vanilla extract — Mother Murphy’s is made by a time-consuming slow-extraction process — requires consistency and precision, but much of the company’s business is about recreating flavors that deliver a familiar, comforting taste to the everyday people eating them.”The flavor chemists are part artist and part analyst,” Murphy said. “You have to put things together according to how you analyze. But it’s also your interpretation of, say, what an apple is. You might like a golden delicious, someone else might like a red. Somebody else might like a green apple.”Even the companies buying Mother Murphy’s flavorings sometimes don’t know exactly what they want.”One of the things that’s kind of funny to me is everybody wants fresh peach. … But the reality of it is most people want a canned peach flavor when you put it in the product,” Murphy said. “They think they want fresh peach, but what they don’t know is they really want canned peaches because they’re smoother, got a little sugar to them and they’re more palatable to you.”Mother Murphy’s sends out about 9,000 samples annually, and Murphy said the company lands the job about 5 percent of the time — he estimated that’s about twice the success of the industry average.The hope is the client’s product will grow, and Mother Murphy’s grows with it. The baking industry is about half of Mother Murphy’s business, he said, but the company has still found time for some smaller projects.”We did some of the jelly beans for the Harry Potter line,” Murphy said, referring to Jelly Belly’s book-inspired real-life version of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. “We did the baby wipes and the pencil shavings.”Growth markets like beverages, protein drinks and even liquors have expanded Mother Murphy’s reach.”The marketplace has taken us places we didn’t know,” Murphy said. “The liquor business — you’ve gotten into these flavored things that have taken us there.”The future is also in the Murphy name: the current CEO has two of his own children working their way through the ranks, plus one of his sister’s children and two offspring of first cousins. Seven decades in, Mother Murphy’s seems poised to reach its centennial guided by the family’s third generation.”The future looks bright,” Murphy said. “We’re probably in the best shape we’ve ever been in with the people we have here and the business relationships we have. There’s just a lot of opportunities.”