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Tuesday August 18, 2009

He made fudge ripple fit for a president

He invented neocitron and made fudge ripple fit for a president

Special to The Globe and Mail

From NeoCitran to Chocolate Fudge Crackle ice cream, Cort Kortschot's imagination created a bevy of delightful edibles. He never got rich at all from these inventions and there were no patent royalties, but it was all fun.

"I don't think he even got a Christmas bonus," his son Mark said.

Mr. Kortschot studied chemistry at the University of Amsterdam in his native Netherlands, but his sense of adventure took him on a six-week trip by ship to Jamaica, where he worked several years for an import/export company.

Later, he landed in the jungles of British Honduras (now Belize) at a citrus plantation where he worked as a food chemist for three years.

Continuing his travels, he worked at Edison Labs in New Jersey before finding his way to Florida and then Ontario.

"He was involved with an orange crystal powder when he worked in Florida and his product was one of the ones that went into orbit with the first astronauts, although a competitor's product, Tang, had the distinction of going to the moon," his son Roger said.

Of all of Mr. Kortschot's inventions, NeoCitran would become his most widely known, with sales in 44 countries around the world. You have to go back to the 1960s for a timeline, when he was the product-development manager for the Salada Tea Company and was living on Godstone Road in Toronto's North York district.

His next door neighbour was Allan Greve, who had moved from Saskatchewan where he had been the chief pharmacist at Swift Current Union Hospital. He was studying health administration at the University of Toronto. One day in the backyard while enjoying a beer, the neighbours were discussing Mr. Kortschot's dilemma of getting new products into the marketplace.

"With your background as a pharmacist, do you have any ideas about a formula for cold/flu symptoms? Mr. Kortschot asked Mr. Greve.

"Well, my mother always used to say that you should have a warm drink with a lemon flavour that would soothe the throat on the way down. We could add some ingredients to that," he said.

As these backyard discussions continued, Mr. Greve recommended three additions to the lemon: a pain reliever, a decongestant and an antihistamine.

"So I wrote Cort the formula," said Mr. Greve, who later became CEO at Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto for 20 years before switching to St. Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton as CEO. "We would pour all of these ingredients into a glass of hot water and it would be a concoction that would take away cold symptoms. I provided the medicine, he provided the crystals."

Mr. Kortschot took this idea to his basement and began experimenting. Then he explored further at a Salada laboratory and after various testing procedures, the company introduced the product as NeoCitran several years later. For some 40 years, the name has stuck, and it has been one of the leaders in its field. Novartis, the current company behind NeoCitran, now has it available in many flavours.

"We were very proud of my father's involvement with NeoCitran and as kids we would proudly tell our friends that our dad invented NeoCitran in our basement," Roger said.

Some 20 years later, Mr. Kortschot was involved with another of his favourite inventions. He and a friend Al Sargant were working in a lab in London, Ont., attempting to perfect a chocolate fudge ice cream at a time when money had become very, very tight for Mr. Kortschot.

"Cort was down to his last penny. He wanted to find a way to make everything work," said Lowell Knieriem, who worked with Mr. Kortschot on the project. "And everything did work out. The formula for the ice cream remains proprietary, but I can tell you that the ingredients were very specific. Cort and Al worked at it hard to get the chocolate just right, to get it hard rather than soft.

"It's easy to do the invention, but tough to get the marketing done and get it sold in the marketplace. Cort banged on every door that should be banged on."

With the help of a wholesale supplier, Mr. Kortschot convinced Loblaws executive and media personality Dave Nichol that he should see him in person about this special ice cream. At the meeting, he pointed out to Mr. Nichol that ordinary chocolate is tasteless and waxy when added to ice cream.

He then explained the solution: He had restructured the cocoa butter used to make pure chocolate so that it would melt in your mouth even if frozen. An enraptured Mr. Nichol immediately told him to bring in a sample. He showed Mr. Nichol how he had distributed the unique chocolate mixture through a rich, velvety vanilla ice cream in fudgy ribbons that would crackle when spooned out.

"In those early days of President's Choice and no-name products, the supermarket chains wanted things that were different and better than the competing products," Mr. Knieriem said.

Mr. Nichol was so inspired by Mr. Kortschot's invention that he gave it a big splash on Nov. 16, 1991, on the cover of his Dave Nichol's Insider Report, a flyer distribued to Loblaws customers.

"Our new President's Choice Decadent Chocolate Fudge Crackle Ice Cream may be the best thing that's happened to ice cream since "cream ice" was included on the menu of George IX in France during the 16th century," Mr. Nichol said in the bulletin.

"It's the most exciting President's Choice dessert product we have ever launched."

Over the years, Chocolate Fudge Crackle ice cream has been a big seller for Loblaws, which recently rebranded it as Creamfirst.

"I have fond memories of my dad at his house madly mixing samples of chocolate and placing them on baking sheets in the oven to heat them," Roger said. "He would carefully remove them and occasionally I would try some of the samples."

There were other Kortschot inventions. He was involved with Nestlé's Nestea ice tea powder and also produced a western omelette that was frozen with liquid nitrogen to create pellets that would culminate in a perfect crisp omelette. This product was sold for a period at Harvey's across Canada.

CORT KORTSCHOT

Cort Kortschot was born in Amstelveen, Holland, on May 30, 1931. He died Aug. 3, 2009, in Cambridge, Ont., of a heart attack. He was 78. He leaves his wife Tina, sons Mark and Roger and stepdaughters Diane and Joanne. He was predeceased by his first wife Shirley in 2005.

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