Beer, cheese, dairy products, processed meat, wine, sourdough and other baking products, pet food and probiotic dietary supplements all contain lactic acid bacteria, the leading source of probiotics, which have a number of potential health benefits. And if you’ve used or consumed any of these, chances are good that the lactic acid cultures were produced by BioSource Cultures & Flavors, a biotechnology company located in Muskego.
BioSource is one of only a handful of primary culture manufacturers in the U.S., focused on custom fermentation for commercial applications with the goal of delivering the highest quality products that are all human-grade, gluten free and kosher. BioSource produces more than 25 different culture strains that are distributed internationally. The company leverages its expertise in probiotic cultures, custom fermentation and the development of microbial products to help their customers make existing products better and improve people’s health.
Why Bacteria Are Important
You have around 100,000 billion live bacteria in your gut and, collectively, those bacteria form our gut flora, which is crucial for several bodily functions, so it’s important to keep our gut flora in balance.
Like most things, there’s good and there’s bad, bacteria that is. Good bacteria have health maintenance and anti-aging effects, such as aiding digestion and absorption, stimulating immunity and helping protect us from harmful bacteria. Bad bacteria have adverse effects on the body. Generally, there is approximately 40% of good bacteria and 60% of bad bacteria in your gut, but the bad bacteria are continually trying to destroy the good, so maintaining the gut flora balance is critical to good health. One way to improve gut health, boost the immune system and fight off harmful bacteria is to include lactic acid bacteria, the good bacteria found in probiotics, in your diet.
Despite the name, lactic acid bacteria have nothing to do with milk. These bacteria got their name based on their ability to ferment a variety of sugars and convert them into lactic acid. Lactic acid cultures have countless applications throughout the food, human and animal health, and agricultural industries. Producing live, active bacteria for use in probiotics and other applications is a highly-specialized process.
Finding Their Niche
The Midwest, and specifically Wisconsin, is home to many large biotech companies. Within a 100-mile radius of Milwaukee, dozens of large and small organizations, are delivering better solutions through proven expertise across the full biohealth spectrum. Wisconsin continues to be one of the largest producers of dairy products in the U.S., including the largest production of cheese in the country; combined with being home to a robust meat processing industry and beer production, all of which require cultures to produce. Dr. Narayan Suresh, founder of BioSource, feels these factors position Waukesha County as a perfect location for the company. Dr. Suresh, a microbiologist and biochemist, worked for several different pharma companies in the biosciences industry before starting BioSource in 1997. The company’s focus is on quality.
“Everything we make in this facility is human-grade, edible, and can be used for many applications. We produce and sell only one grade of product, the highest grade. We don’t compromise on quality,” said Dr. Suresh. “Being a smaller company in an industry with many giants, we have developed a niche for doing custom fermentation for both start-up companies and established companies with a proprietary strain who have a need for optimization to get that strain to grow at scale for production.”
Originally located in Mequon for its first few years, BioSource quickly outgrew that facility and moved into the former Boldt Farms egg products plant on Janesville Road in Muskego, which was an ideal foundation for their production and lab needs. The company has been in this same location for more than 20 years, and expanded the facility in 2019, increasing its fermentation capacity to meet growing customer needs.
“Muskego has been very welcoming to our business. We have a good relationship with the city. It’s a good area for attracting employees and it’s safe,” said Dr. Suresh.
BioSource currently employs about 40 people, primarily in the lab and production areas, and runs three shifts, five days a week. The company has very low turnover; in fact, its first employee is still with the company today as Plant Manager.
“The people we hire are very passionate about what we do. We are very thankful to our employees who do all the good work and allow us to compete with the giants in the industry,” said Dr. Suresh.
Alap Suresh, Vice President of Operations for BioSource and Dr. Suresh’s son, added, “We look for people who want a place to grow, where they feel they have a say in the company’s growth. We look for people who are passionate in what they do.”
Dr. Suresh continued, “It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in a job, it’s the quality of the time you put into the job. We want to make sure our employees know we view them as family and feel enriched with what they do.”
Lab team members have microbiology training, with a related college degree, are self-motivated and willing to contribute to the growth of the company. Production is a different skillset, with more manual labor, attention to details, and the ability to follow established processes required. But in all areas, people with a scientific mindset and an eye for opportunities for improvement are key traits for BioSource team members.
“Postbiotics is one of the key buzzwords in the industry right now,” stated Alap Suresh. Probiotics have to be alive to work, requiring refrigeration to keep them stable. Heat-killed bacteria – postbiotics – can be as, or potentially more, effective than probiotics for certain applications.
“There are a lot more opportunities to put postbiotics in areas where probiotics – live cultures – won’t work because they have to be kept in a cold environment. It opens a lot of doors for topical applications, hot beverages, and more. It’s an area we’ve been working on for some time now, and are currently producing postbiotics,” said Dr. Suresh. “We definitely see this as an area for company growth.”
BioSource has been a family business since its inception. Although Alap has been employed with the company for ten years, it’s always been a family business. “We all worked weekends and summers to do whatever was needed. We’ve been immersed in the company and culture,” he said.
“We don’t envision to be the biggest in the business, but we want to be the best in the business based on our product quality and company culture,” Dr. Suresh said.
BioSource is continuing to invest in building the infrastructure for growth.
Said Dr. Suresh, “Ours is a family business, with a vision to grow in the area, establish a legacy. We see the value in what we do, we don’t want to move to another area. We strive to stay family-owned and keep it in the family, continue as a family business, grow as a family business, and stay in the area.”