In the mid-’80s, the pioneers at Manatee County-headquartered Environmental Biotech International (EBI) foretold the future of food industry woes. They predicted that, without a cutting-edge sanitary breakthrough, our nation’s grease traps would result in a colossal clog. Their solution: Create the miracle cure.
That foresight led to a global niche market. Today, more than 5,000 restaurants, food production plants and municipalities use EBI’s products, including McDonalds, KFC and Wal-Mart. EBI has 213 distributors in the U.S. and franchises in 13 countries and has ambitious plans to expand into Africa, India and Russia. It will also be hiring five to six new employees in engineering and its lab this year, adding to its current 15 employees. The company has 260 employees abroad.
"We started as a bacteria company run by a group of people, including one of the principals, Bill Hadley, who helped develop strains of bacteria for waste remediation," says Matt Robinson, the vice president of operations and product development, who has been with EBI for 16 years. "One strain remediated grease in drains, specifically for wastewater and the restaurant industry. We saw an opportunity to build a business in the food production industry, and Hadley went on to build a franchise network."
Much of the international growth, however, is attributed to 45-year-old Aziz Tejpar, who lives in Lakewood Ranch and bought EBI in 2006. Tejpar, a Kenyan-born businessman, read about EBI in 2002 in Forbes when he was flying to the U.S. on business. At the time, he was living in London and was the leading Budget car franchisee in the U.K. He was bored with the car rental business, and looking for a new opportunity.
"EBI had a brilliant business model," Tejpar says. "No one was doing green. And grease is a big problem. Our sewers are filled with it. When you cook, you make fat. Even salad rinsed down the drain contains fat."
Tejpar began to sell the product in the U.K. and became EBI’s top franchisor with gross sales in the U.K. that outdid the company’s U.S. sales. His success convinced him to buy the whole company and do more than sell its products. He wanted it to become a "cradle-to-grave solution for grease and oil," he says. Even now, EBI’s biggest competitor, EcoLab, "just sells the juice," as Tejpar puts it. EBI does everything from making the Earth-friendly bacteria to applying it to drains to creating regular maintenance programs to disposing of the waste, which is a huge problem in city sewers.
"We’ll go into a Starbucks, for example, and treat their drains with bacteria, do odor control of their dumpsters, etc.," Robinson says. "Companies want to deal with as few vendors as possible; they’d rather deal with one vendor that can cover a gamut of different services."
Tejpar pushed EBI to launch franchises in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. When growth leveled off during the recession, Tejpar concentrated on new products and services. EBI is now creating a "brown oil" product from grease trap waste that can be used in the cosmetic market, pet food and in biodiesel fuel. Currently these industries are using oil from corn and fryers, and demand is outstripping supply. EBI believes it can meet or exceed demand with its brown oil. Late this spring, the company will open brown-oil processing plants in both Dallas and Tampa.
EBI also is developing systems for municipalities to eliminate food waste that can operate on a small, local scale. Currently most systems that use bacteria to eliminate food waste are large scale, often outside of cities, and deal with huge farms or other large industrial makers of food. EBI hopes to bring this micro-system to market in 2013.
Tejpar also has been in negotiations with a South African company to train another company’s workers to do the waste remediation work in that country.
"There is a lot of potential for growth," says Tejpar. In the U.S., many states have mandated that grease traps be pumped regularly, and EBI hopes to take advantage of the new regulations.
"It’s a good time for our business," Tejpar says.