The increasing awareness of environmental issues and the need for sustainable development has led to a growing interest in bio-based chemicals. Finding new applications for these chemicals is becoming increasingly important as we seek to replace traditional petroleum-based products with more environmentally friendly alternatives.

In this podcast episode, we have the opportunity of speaking with Anton Zhloba, who’s an Application Technology Center Leader with Jungbunzlauer. His focus is developing applications and exploring new business opportunities where JBL’s sustainable ingredients can make a difference. Over his career, he’s worked in a variety of industries including food and beverage, pharma, biotech, and cosmetics in both Europe and the US. 

Topics discussed this week: 

  • The origin story of Anton Zhloba and how he got interested in chemistry and the chemical industry;
  • The reasons that brought Anton to Jungbunzlauer;
  • The impact of sustainability and bio-based chemicals;
  • JBL’s approach to global growth;
  • The importance of customer-centric application development for Jungbunzlauer;
  • And so much more! 

So tune in as Victoria and Anton share valuable facts and interesting pieces of information about finding new applications for bio-based chemicals. 

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Finding New Applications for Bio-Based Chemicals with Anton Zhloba

This is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. Whether you’re a loyal listener, or if this is your first time, welcome, we’re glad to have you here. Today, I have the opportunity of speaking with Anton Zhloba, who’s an Application Technology Center Leader with Jungbunzlauer. His focus is developing applications and exploring new business opportunities where JBL’s sustainable ingredients can make a difference. Over his career, he’s worked in a variety of industries including food and beverage, pharma, biotech, and cosmetics in both Europe and the US. So he brings that to JBL, and he’s gonna bring that perspective here today to The Chemical Show. Anton, welcome to The Chemical Show.

Thank you, Victoria. I’m glad to be here.

Tell me what’s your origin story? How did you get interested in chemistry and chemicals, and what brought you to Jungbunzlauer? 

I was born and raised in Russia. I’m coming from a scientific family. So my father was a scientist. He was a biologist but focused on DNA investigation and chromosome reparations using radiation. In early childhood, I was exposed to all his different publications. He was traveling in the early 90s and late 80s. I was barely able to understand all the things but I was still exposed to his writing and to the essence of his scientific work. So I’ll always get curious when he explained to me all the complications of human cells and how little living organisms function. I was always fascinated by that, and also chemistry from the very beginning. That everything’s consistently different atoms or molecules. So I got so fascinated, and that was my real big focus in school. 

That’s awesome. Then, you’ve worked in the industry and in different parts of the industry for a number of years. What brought you to Jungbunzlauer?

Jungbunzlauer caught my attention early on because perhaps it stands out as one of the few companies that have such huge sustainability partners, and a lot of resonance with the products of Jungbunzlauer or we also go by JBL produces. I’ve always been a consumer of those products on a daily basis.

When I first heard about and got introduced to Jungbunzlauer, obviously, you’re here in the US and you have a global presence. Can you talk more about the company and just where it’s located and what shape it looks like today?

The company is actually headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. We have European origin. We all started in a particular village in Bohemia. It’s now a non-existing country and not part of the Czech Republic. The current company has no connection to the place. It’s just the place of origin. The company grew at quite a good pace over the last probably 50 to 80 years. We now have this global reach, and we really present on all the markets around the globe, either ourselves or through distribution, but we will still have to focus on the European and non-European Western markets. Europe is about 50% of the target market of our business and North America is about 33% as of now. You can conclude that it’s heavily focused on the European market, but we still have a presence also in Latin America. It is growing, and also in the Asian Pacific markets.

We rely a lot on our existing relationships and customers and their feedback. Share on X

Is a big part of your competition coming from China, or do you see more local competition? Because I know you guys have a pretty heavy manufacturing presence in North America as well as in Europe.

We do also have manufacturing in Canada. Currently, it’s our only North American site. Also, we have four plants in Europe. Overall, we do see some competition between both. So it’s actually a mixture of Asian competitors, European competitors, local competitors, and most American markets. I’d say it’s a good mixture. It’s good. We like it the way it is. I think this competition helps us grow.

Tell us more about what they produce and what are the applications for your Jungbunzlauer. 

We make everything through fermentation. Everything comes from renewable feedstocks, and we ferment and then downstream modify different products.  We also modify these products and make your specialty, like special salts that also go into different ingredients. Again, everything’s biobased and biodegradable. We’re still with like 90% of what we make is edible, though.

Interesting! It started that way. It’s an old company. When I look back at its history, it’s 150 years old. So it has this history of always being biobased

Absolutely! We’ve always been biobased. We’ve always been a family-owned company, even though we’ve switched ownership during our history, but we’ve always been focusing on fermentation biobased. We used to make different forms of refermentation from the very beginning. I believe we acquired the first citric acid production. It was in the mid-last century, and that’s how we became one of the dominant western suppliers of citric acid and we expanded from there.

Bio-Based Chemicals: The most important is to find new niches 
for existing products and find new markets, and also expand the 
markets to see how our products can make a difference in where 
they can excel in different applications.

 

That’s awesome! Getting back to citric acid and fermentation, what’s actually the feedstock of this? I think people in the industry maybe know more about it. Others might think citric and think citrus fruits, and yet I don’t think you’re growing a lot of oranges in Canada. So how do you get to the products?

There’s a story in exhibits. If you calculate, there would never be enough citrus fruits squeezed into citric acid to meet all the demand in the world. We use renewable feedstocks. We process corn and then they just feed it into fermentation with our proprietary strains, where we make and then downstream, purify our products that are purely made through fermentation.

Who are your typical customers? So you’re hitting obviously with the products like you’re going into a wide variety of areas.

Most of the products we sell are actually food because of the nature of the product. It fits really well but there are also non-food areas. They are growing rapidly as well. We also have a great presence in cosmetics and personal care as well. We supply home industrial applications like cleaners. We supply into some business in construction as well, like the need for application of paints and coatings. It’s a whole variety of different applications because the products that we make are very versatile. They can be used anywhere.

Obviously, your focus right now is innovation and application development. So what are you looking for? When you start on this path, what does that mean to you? And how do you even identify where you’re taking these products?

For innovation application technology, then the time overseen for North America, and also to market the world as well. So the most important is to find new niches for existing products and find new markets, and also expand the markets to see how our products can make a difference in where they can excel in different applications because some products and some applications are very traditional. We try to innovate and bring new applications innovation on board. Recently, we did a lot of studies on the packaging, and water reduction in concentrated formats, for example, for cleaners. We also look into how we can substitute different products and how we can formulate more sustainable personal care products. So there are just some of the examples of applications that we do.

We try to innovate and bring new applications innovation on board. Share on X

Where does it start? Does it usually start with a customer coming to you? Or, does it start where with consumer trends or a problem in the market? How do you even know where to begin?

Actually, it goes both ways. We do quite a lot of pioneering ourselves, as we also want to trailblaze the industry and show examples of how certain things can be done and where we can help. Also, some start definitely with customer requests. For example, if we have a meeting, or we get a lot of good relationships, with the industries we work with, we also get a lot of requests. What needs to be improved or changed? Whether it’s like the functionality of our existing product or completely new functionality that we need to bring on board. 

There’s a lot of innovation going on right now in chemicals, certainly in the bio space. You guys have been in bio forever. There are a lot of new entrants into the market that are really growing their position, really to respond to the whole sustainability trend, and just where we’re going from an industry perspective. And then I think some of the challenges end up being the same in terms of when you are bringing a new product to the market. It can be challenging to really find the fit and the customers and bring that to the table. Is that where the biggest challenge is? Is it in the customers? Is it in the regulations? I guess, what are the challenges and how do you overcome them?

With a lot of things we do, actually, it’s not like just completely bringing new products to the market. A lot of things we do is market expansion. We already know about certain functionalities and chemistry. So let’s say in personal care, or a certain ingredient has certain properties, let’s say beverages, it’s going to work the same way in cosmetics. A lot of times, market expansion eliminates some of this uncertainty. We also sometimes do product expansion. That might get a little bit challenging. But again, we rely a lot on our existing relationships and customers and their feedback. When it’s a completely new market and a new product, it’s even more challenging, but probably that’s the most exciting task we can get. Because that’s completely true innovation where you can completely develop some new type of business and help someone.

I know you’ve spent a really actually quite a large part of your career in sales. It’s more in the sales side than on the technical chemistry side. I find that I think of sales often tends to be a bit more short-term focus and a bit tactical and yet, product and application development can be long-term because it takes longer to prove it out or run the course from the experiments and develop what it is. How do you navigate those differences? Because even today, it seems like your role actually bridges both.

It’s a great synergy, I think, both my background in chemistry, and also in science. I know sales sometimes can get more tactical. When you’re fostering great relationships with customers, and you see your numbers are going well, but at the same time, when you focus on application development, I think you can bring a completely different level of the meeting to the table when you can actually help solve some kind of an application mystery. When something’s not working, let’s say on the processing side with the customer, or let’s say you introduce an application that somebody was not aware of, and you still feel like you’re a salesperson because that’s exactly what you do. You’re selling. 

Absolutely! And it’s a relationship business. As you’ve referenced, developing these relationships is a big part of success. You started talking about sustainability, which is one of the core values of JBL. And obviously, I think there are aspects of the chemical industry that have been very sustainable for a long time. We didn’t necessarily recognize it as sustainable, but it’s been there. But how does JBL engage with its customers around sustainability? Do you guys track specific sustainability metrics? How do you engage to make sure that people have that story?

We listened attentively to the feedback we were getting. We also try to be pioneers on the sustainability side. For example, we have a few pillars that we focus on, including sustainability, speaking mostly about environmental sustainability. Its production, its water reduction, and its certain goals for the reduction in carbon emissions. So we check our carbon footprints. We’re also committed to science-based targets per Paris agreement. So we aim to meet the goal of both these SBTI, Science-Based Targets, and some of the information that we share on sustainability is actually protected by NDA, but we will definitely be willing to share with everyone who’s willing to enter the NDA with our customers and show our successes with bringing down the carbon divisions for different group product groups. 

Bio-Based Chemicals: We've always been biobased. We've always 
been a family-owned company, even though we've switched ownership 
during our history, but we've always been focusing on fermentation biobased. 
We used to make a different form of fermentation from the very beginning.

 

It makes sense. Obviously, as a privately held company, you don’t have to do the same kind of reporting. You do it under NDA just with specific customers.

Some of the previous year’s reports are available just on our website. They are not held back. But the recent ones will be available under NDA.

Obviously, you’re from Russia. You spent most of your career in Europe, and you’ve now been based out of the US for several years. Is business different here versus in Europe? I guess it’s kind of a two-question thing, is business different in sustainability different across the pond?

Businesses are different from each other. I cannot say Russia is the most advanced country in terms of recycling. But I think it’s still a little bit ahead of what we have here in the US currently. Europe is way ahead with how they approach sustainability, with regulatory requirements, and also with the mindset of people, how people approach sustainability. So I think it’s something where we can grow here in the US as well. We just try to set the standard.

Definitely, it’s a different approach and different drivers in some respects to why it is and what it is. So what’s next for you and for Jungbunzlauer? What are you focused on today and where are you going next?

We are building a completely new Publication Technology Center here in Chicago. We will be expanding our application development. And the future for us is just growth as we can see sustainability and biobased biodegradable ingredients. They come more into play in different industries. We want to be really living this sustainable life. We all aspire to be people and be in what most American US societies do. So we just want to help with that and bring more value to the table. That’s why we’ve been so heavily investing in application technology, new products, and new applications.

That’s great. Thank you for joining us today. I appreciate it in getting to know you and getting to know more about JBL.

Thank you, Victoria. Thank you to all the listeners.

Absolutely! Thanks, everyone for joining us on The Chemical Show today.

 

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About Anton Zhloba:

Anton Zhloba is an Application Technology Center Team Leader with Jungbunzlauer based out of Chicago. Anton focuses on working on applications and exploration of new business opportunities where Jungbunzlauer’s sustainable ingredients can make a difference. Anton’s background is in Science (Analytical Chemistry) and Business and over the course of his career, Anton has worked in many industries, including Food, Beverage, Pharma, Biotech, and Cosmetics, and across different business functions in both Europe and the USA. Anton is committed to lifelong learning and continuous perfection of things and is a DIY guy who loves trying new things and solving problems. Anton is a passionate traveler and a lifelong learner.

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