It’s All in the Chemistry

Written by Pauline Muller

In the world of international specialty chemical procurement and distribution, Netchem Inc. serves hundreds of manufacturing customers, from independently-owned businesses to Fortune 100 companies. Netchem enables its customers to build and expand solid supply chains, striving to act as an extension of their procurement and distribution departments. And while bigger competitors had difficulties during the supply chain nightmare of recent years, Netchem fulfilled many urgent requests for material while increasing its standard three-month inventory holding period to support customers’ production schedules.

Whether customers need materials from Asia or beyond, this nimble and streamlined team of 14 people has access to everything necessary to keep North American manufacturing rolling, including active pharmaceutical ingredients fully certified under American and Canadian legislation.

Netchem’s strengths lie in its close relationships within the industry, its skill in conducting due diligence on behalf of its customers, its packaging requirements and paperwork knowledge, and ensuring that everything arrives according to plan while adhering to local laws. After over 30 years of lengthy negotiations and closing deals with foreign suppliers, the Netchem team knows the value in being what its customers need to keep their operations running smoothly without the hassle of navigating international procurement.

Netchem obtains silanes and silicones, plastic and electroplating additives, lubricant ingredients, flame retardants, personal care, and active pharmaceutical ingredients from manufacturers around the globe. Netchem handles all types of unique customer requirements including specific packaging, additional specifications, audit requirements, and country-of-origin requirements. “We sell ingredients that go into everything from your over-the-counter medications to your lawn chair,” says Stephanie Khurana, President. “Netchem aims to be the preferred supply chain partner to North American manufacturers of all sizes.”

The company also applies its thorough knowledge of port traffic to ensure that goods are routed efficiently to minimize time lost in overfull harbour situations where goods can be delayed.

In addition to its home in Brantford, Ontario, an hour away from Toronto, the company has warehouse facilities across North America as well as a dedicated business manager to serve clients in Latin America. The company is women-owned and proudly certified by Women Business Enterprises Canada (WBE Canada), which supports, promotes, and certifies women-owned companies by enabling better access to supply chains for women-owned businesses. Khurana also volunteers her time and knowledge to WBE Canada, which honoured her with a leadership award in acknowledgment of her impact. Khurana notes the importance of supplier diversity for providing meaningful, equal opportunity to people historically excluded from equitable access to work and business.

Khurana says, “being women-owned as well as immigrant-founded, we strongly believe in the importance of making sure everyone has a voice and a seat at the table, particularly those who traditionally haven’t had one. I am proud that many of our corporate clients have supplier diversity programs and initiatives and hope to see more mid-market businesses adopt similar programs in the future,” she adds, underlining this healthier direction toward fair business practices.

Stephanie’s father, the late Paul Khurana, was a chemical engineer who arrived in Canada in 1967 and later founded the company. Stephanie recently became a parent herself, and say that, rather than entirely changing her business outlook, motherhood has added to her passion for directing the firm responsibly, leading her to look at new ways to further improve how business is conducted in the industry. The Khuranas have developed a sixth sense for this business, which only makes sense as the early days lacked the technologies that make the world go ‘round today, like the internet.

Even so, it is a challenging trade. Having partners on the ground in other countries is critical and Netchem has spent decades building its relationships and reputation. Removing the risk and logistical headaches is, therefore, an undeniable value addition that makes big industry players turn to Netchem.

The company also supports its local community. Netchem runs an annual fundraiser for Feed Ontario and Food Bank Canada, through which it has raised around $20,000. These contributions had their roots in the hardships of COVID-19 when the vulnerabilities of working people became evident. Its most recent drive, at the end of last year, brought in more than $5,000, for which the team is equally proud and grateful.

The ecological challenges and dangers are not lost on Khurana, and being open about the realities of the industry is essential to solving its problems. In the meantime, she is committed to running her business well. “We are at the nexus of balancing commercial and environmental interests as manufacturers and manufacturing-adjacent businesses. This is actually a heavy topic because I don’t think that the industry is changing enough,” she says, pointing out that ‘greenwashing’ is quite prevalent.

Against this backdrop, Khurana is calling for change and is committed to doing what it takes to drive change within her organization. “Change to this industry requires both novel scientific innovations as well as government-led initiatives to improve clean energy infrastructure,” she says. The matter is serious. While buyers do try their best to make the optimal decision, price and geopolitics still largely drive decision-making.

From identified chemicals threatening salmon to big industry players legally manipulating legislation to their benefit at the cost of the environment, time is of the essence. To this end, Netchem is dedicating the following three years to taking a critical look at how it can further improve its own and its customers’ impact on nature. It has started this process through use of the Ecovadis platform. The platform, which is used by many of its clients, guides ecological responsibility through advisory and evaluation services. “It is good to have some sort of metric to start from. We follow its recommendations,” says Khurana.

Moving ahead, the company continues to search for solutions to the challenges of becoming more ecologically friendly. Helping its customers mitigate or even prevent environmental damage is Netchem Inc.’s primary aim for future development. “On the whole, people want to do it but they don’t know how. Nobody wants to feel like [they are] responsible for degrading the environment,” Khurana says.

She feels the company can leverage its buying power for good by ensuring its suppliers maintain best practices. One case in point: on a recent visit to Taiwan, Netchem was impressed by its Taiwanese suppliers going above and beyond to fulfill their environmental responsibility with measures like water salvaging and cleaning processes.

“The pursuit of the lowest cost has hurt overall supply chain elasticity and resiliency,” says Khurana, presenting an excellent example of international vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supply. While the company does not currently sell this material, there were, at one time, several fabricators around the world. When China severely undercut these companies by dropping its prices, they had to shut their doors. Today, China is the main exporter of many raw materials, including this essential nutrient, as described by Joe Gandelman for The Moderate Voice.

While this general situation continues, a positive aspect of doing business with China in terms of chemical supply is that the country takes chemical manufacturing seriously, with highly regulated chemical manufacturing parks being kept under close government watch.

Considering how much of the heavy lifting Netchem does for its clients, it soon becomes clear why its biggest customers consider this team an indispensable addition to their procurement operations. The company’s proactive approach to market changes has afforded it growth, further boosted by its move to strengthen customers’ supply chains. “Netchem helps businesses create resiliency by diversifying their supply chain,” Khurana says. “Our goal going into 2024 is to help ensure that our partners have a supply chain strategy that makes sense for the future.”



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