Fortifying the World

by Laurie Gorton, Baking & Snack
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Bread wouldn’t be the nutritional powerhouse it is today without John J. Watson nor would the nitty-gritty activity of everyday operations at most bakeries. His grasp of the human impact of issues specific to the baking industry — the health of the population it serves and of the welfare of the people working in it — changed the way nutrition is delivered.

Mr. Watson’s leadership moved Watson, Inc., West Haven, CT, the family-owned and operated company he headed from 1968 to his death in 2008, into the future. His service enabled the progress of the American Association of Cereal Chemists as its chairman, the American Institute of Baking’s Board of Trustees and Scientific Advisory Board, the American Bakers Association’s Food Technical Regulatory Affairs Committee, the World Health Organization’s International Nutritional Anemia Consultative Group, the Council for Responsible Nutrition and SUSTAIN (Sharing Unites States Technology to Aid in the Improvement of Nutrition).

For these accomplishments and his community leadership, ASB selected Mr. Watson for induction into the Baking Hall of Fame as a member of its class of 2014.

In the years after World War II, the baking industry grappled with mandated enrichment of bread. Scaling the required vitamins and minerals in quantities of grams and milligrams challenged the accuracy of mixer operators. Similar conditions affected bakers’ use of yeast foods, brew buffers, enzymes and other dough conditioners.

Watson, Inc. (then Watson Flour Co. and later Watson Foods Co.) entered the dough conditioner and enrichment supply field in the late-1950s, and Mr. Watson directed development of the first water-soluble, edible packaging film for batching bakery additives. Known today as the Sol-U-Pak, the clear, food-grade, heat-sealable and cold-water-soluble packaging made of HPMC film provides safe and virtually error-free delivery of expensive and skin-sensitive ingredients added to food formulations in small quantities. One packet dropped into the batch eliminates the need for measuring and handling these materials. The free water dissolves the film, and normal batch mixing evenly distributes the contents.

Mr. Watson’s baking industry career started in 1951 after receiving his degree in chemistry from Georgetown University. He joined his father and brother at Watson Flour Co., founded by his grandfather in 1939. Uncle Sam called him to serve in the armed forces during the Korean War, but he returned to the family business in 1954. He held a variety of positions of increasing responsibility, moving from sales and R&D functions into the presidency in 1968.

The story of the Sol-U-Pak reveals Mr. Watson’s forward thinking. Working with Dow Chemical, Watson Flour began developing water-soluble, edible ­packaging. Chas. Pfizer Co. noticed these efforts and contracted with Watson to produce enrichment packs in 1958. ­Pfizer later divested that division to Watson, and in 1964, Watson took over manufacturing the edible film.

Under Mr. Watson, the company continued to add to its position in fortification, buying the enrichment business of Stauffer Chemical Co. in 1982. Sterwin Chemical and Nopa Laboratories were also soon acquired. In 1992, Watson purchased Dufar’s nutritional pre-mix ­division that served the food industry and US AID emergency relief programs.

Mr. Watson exercised leadership in his community as well. He served as president of the parish council at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Greenwich, CT, and as a lector and Eucharistic minister at both St. Mary’s and Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, Fairfield, CT. He was awarded the distinction of Knight of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. He led Greenwich’s Ecumenical World Hunger Organization as co-president and served on the board of advisors for Fairfield College Preparatory School in Fairfield.

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