Their relationship actually dates back to 1937, when Edgar Brothers Clay of Metuchen, NJ, asked Ben Joachim of The Joachim Research Laboratories to find additional applications for the kaolin they were mining in Georgia. Kaolin, or clay, is an important ingredient in paper, but Edgar Brothers sought more profitable markets.
Joachim found that kaolin could be ideal for camouflage paint prior to and during World War II, and convinced Edgar Brothers to make a major investment in equipment.
Once World War II ended, camouflage paint was not needed, and Edgar Brothers wanted new markets. Once again, Joachim was asked to find new uses for kaolin, and he found that inks, paints and coatings would be ideal. Once he did, Edgar Brothers asked him to sell the kaolin. Thus, in 1946, Joachim founded Superior Materials with his two sons-in-law, Meyer Budman and Fred Kafka, and the company continues to thrive.
“Due to the successful partnership between Superior and BASF, with their successful approach to the marketplace as a team, there has been continuous and uninterrupted sales to a number of the same major inks and coatings houses from 1948 to today,” Kafka said.
Today, the distributorship remains family owned, with Steven Kafka serving as president, Ted Budman as EVP, David Kafka as VP of operations and Matthew Kafka, representing the fourth generation the family, learning as an account executive.
Meanwhile, Edgar Brothers would eventually be sold, becoming part of Engelhard Corporation, which was acquired by BASF in 2006. Today, BASF’s kaolin division continues its close collaboration with Superior Materials.
BASF and Superior Materials leaders recently gathered at Superior Materials’ headquarters in Garden City, NY to commemorate the companies’ 70-year partnership.
“We are very proud of our relationship with BASF,” Steven Kafka said. “The kaolin business has thrived under BASF, and we are really fortunate to have people in BASF’s kaolin group who know their product so well. It’s quite special to have two businesses married together for 70 years, and despite company changes, the essential business remains the same.”
“When there is a close working relationship, it is motivational,” added Budman.
Uses for Kaolin
Kaolin has many benefits for both liquid and paste inks as well as coatings. One advantage is limiting strike-thru, keeping the ink on the surface of the paper and not leaking through to the other side. That is critical for substrates such as newspapers.
“Inks and paints are big industries for us,” said Ashok Khokhani, global technical manager for kaolin for BASF. “Secondary kaolin’s platy shape is key to preventing strike-thru of inks, and it also acts as a pigment extender, which helps in terms of developing color strength. Kaolin is also very low abrasion, which is important in preventing scratching on gravure cylinders.”
For paints and coatings, kaolin acts as both an extender as well as improving hiding for architectural paints.
“Hydrous kaolin is used as an extender for titanium dioxide,” Khokhani noted. “Calcined kaolin is used extensively by architectural paint manufacturers to provide hiding.”
Celebrating 70 Years
As they celebrated seven decades in the industry, the companies looked back on the history of the relationship between BASF and Superior Materials, from the beginnings of the use of kaolin in inks and paints and the founding of Superior Materials.
“Our grandfather was a chemist, and he was contacted by the Edgar Brothers, who asked if there was anything else to do with kaolin,” Kafka said. “He felt there was a place in the printing industry, and convinced them to invest $1.5 million for equipment to beneficiate and spray dry the kaolin for use in camouflage paints. There was a pound of kaolin in every gallon of camouflage paint.
“Once the war ended, they went back to our grandfather to find more uses, as well as to distribute the kaolin,” added Kafka. “Our grandfather formed Superior Materials to sell kaolin, and was also doing formulations for Edgar Brothers. From its humble beginnings, kaolin is now a global business, and remains a very important ingredient in many products today.”
Kafka added that kaolin is also a “green” ingredient - it is, after all, clay.
Jan Jeffries, Director of Kaolin Sales for BASF, noted the special relationship between the two companies.
“Our channel partners are important to ensure that our customers get the products they need,” Jeffries said. “Superior Materials is our commercial sales force, and they have earned our confidence for decades, something for which they can be very proud.”
Kafka noted that the distribution industry is in the midst of a consolidation wave, adding that Superior Materials has no intention of leaving the field.
“In this day and age, many of our competitors are cashing out,” Kafka said. “They are using the excuse that they need to become bigger, but really it is because they lose the passion for the business. We remain passionate because of the relationships we have developed with our partners.”
As BASF and Superior Materials celebrate their 70th anniversary, it is clear that this partnership will continue for many more years to come.
“Kaolin is our foundation, and it’s fun to look back, but we are also looking forward,” Kafka concluded.