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Hunt Valley Firm Delivers Energy By The Pack

Mastix Medica, based in a small Hunt Valley warehouse, makes dietary supplements packed in tableted chewing gum.

There are plenty of sweet smells in Cockeysville, as many residents know. You can thank McCormick for that. But follow your nose down Gilroy Road and you might end up somewhere totally different.

Three years ago, a former pharmaceutical executive started Mastix Medica, a company specializing in pharmaceutical applications for chewing gum. Today, the company is still plucking away at the next big thing, but meanwhile produces candy for toy products, chewable Airborne tablets and military-grade caffeinated chewing gum.

The gum is good enough for the American and Israeli military, and is marketed to the public as Stay Alert.

Mastix now boasts 25 customers and the sales force has doubled in the last three years. CEO Robert Estey would not discuss the company's earnings, but said his company is a "multi-million dollar business, and it's grown."

Estey, a Reisterstown resident former executive with the likes of Pfizer and Alpharma, bought the private label business of Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty Co. in 2009.

"I was looking for opportunities in niche delivery systems. I came across chewing gum and looking at that particular market, the only chewing gum is nicotine and it's made by one company in Denmark," he said.

The company did, and still does, have an active business producing promotional mints and other candies. But what Estey took an interest in was the firm's technology to create tableted chewing gum, something only a handful of companies worldwide specialize in. Their machines use direct compression instead of heat (like most chewing gums). That allows the gums to retain active ingredients.

That includes caffeine. Lots of caffeine, in the case of Stay Alert. At 100 mg of caffeine a piece, it packs a punch roughly equivalent to a cup of coffee and comes in flavors like arctic mint and cinnamon.

The magician behind it all, Estey said, is Lisa Bachmann, director of new product development. She's been in the "lab" at Mastix and Koko's for 11 years now. Her job is to make sure the gum and candy doesn't actually taste like what it's in it.

Caffeine, for example, is "awful, very very bitter, extremely bitter," Bachmann said. "Depending on the amount, it's pretty difficult (to mask). It tends to show through a lot of things."

The other feather in Medica Mastix's cap is Airborne. When the creators of the popular dietary supplement moved to create chewable tablets in 2011, they turned to Mastix Medica.

This might seem straightforward, but it wasn't. A regular effervescent Airborne tablet packs 1000 mg of vitamin C, which Bachmann said is notoriously difficult to mask

"You wouldn't be able to eat an Airborne tab if you had all the vitamin C that the effervescent had," she said. "It was really a matter of finding a few things to put in the tablet that gave it the right consistency."

So she added some flavors, split the dosage and delivered the new product. Airborne's Minneapolis-based makers were floored, Estey said. (Owners Schiff Nutrition did not respond to requests for comment for this article.)

A trained chef, Bachmann entered the field after a cousin invited her to apply for a job at Koko's. A Bel Air resident, Bachmann said she loves a good challenge and the chance to experiment, recalling a recent shot at making a vanilla honeysuckle mint for her and friends "that was really, really good."

"We're a small company, but we're growing, and I think there is a large market out there," she said.

Though the company isn't yet making the pharmaceutical products he's been after, Estey hinted at big things coming from the firm in the next few months involving an "oil-based product."

"We're essentially developing a market that is limited, but growing with the products that people want," he said.

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