|Career Profiles of some Food Technologists
Working as: PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT TECHNOLOGIST, Heinz Wattie's Ltd.
Earning: Around $50,000
In a nutshell: “I develop new products for Heinz Wattie's.”
Why food technology?
“The variety of work.” My job is to develop new products for Heinz Watties. We develop the recipe from scratch, from the first idea right through to manufacturing it.
Along the way it involves selection, feasibility (is it possible?), costing (is it affordable?), process (how to make it), and shelf life. A lot of what I work on is meal solutions (food that’s quick and easy to prepare) and meals in pouches.
I originally wanted to be a chef, but after I got good marks in maths and science at high school my careers advisor recommended Food Technology as an alternative. I was quite sure at the time that I wanted to be a chef so I went off to Christchurch Polytech (CPIT) for six months.
I enjoyed the course but after completing it I didn’t really enjoy the work in the catering industry. I then spent another three years doing unrelated, unskilled work that I found pretty boring before I revisited the idea of doing Food Technology.
So I went to Massey University and completed the course, which is four years long and pretty hard work.
A typical day
In the morning the first thing I do is check my emails and messages, and work out if any of them require an urgent response. I then look at the work I have planned for the day and prioritise it or change plans if anything else requires urgent attention.
My day can be a real mix – it might involve computer work all day, making, testing or preparing samples in the laboratory, having meetings with suppliers, marketers, or other company personnel, and some days (or nights) might be dominated by doing factory trials. So it can be a mix of factory work and paperwork.
While much of my job involves following procedures and keeping records of what I do, there is plenty of scope for creativity. The job often involves coming up with creative solutions to a variety of problems, and finding ways to improve product samples.
Lessons learnt along the way
Putting things off can make things a lot harder. In many circumstances making the ‘wrong’ decision is better than making no decision.
Ask others for their help or input, especially those who work in the factory every day. And don’t be afraid of admitting you’ve made a mistake, people will respect you for it.
Communication is also vitally important in this job.
I don’t think you need to be a particular sort of person to do this job. I think there are so many different facets to a career as a food technologist that it suits all kinds of personalities. It helps to have a solid understanding of science, but this doesn’t need to be your main focus.
The most exciting project I’ve worked on is probably one from a previous job. It involved going over to Thailand several times and working on a packaging solution for pineapples in pouches. We had a lot of failures along the way, but this can actually make it a lot more exciting – you do learn a lot from that kind of work, but it can get very frustrating and you can end up wishing that it wasn’t so exciting!
This is a job that benefits New Zealand. By doing a good job of product development for our products it helps to keep the manufacturing operation here in New Zealand. If we do an exceptional job New Zealand has the potential to be seen as a hotbed of innovation – I think that’s something to strive for!
Product development is quite good because you tend to be ‘in the middle’ of all the technical jobs of the business. You have direct dealings with almost all of the other technical people and the potential to branch out into those jobs is there. This could include quality, engineering, process, marketing, etc.
Management is an option for the future, however it’s not something I’m actively pursuing at the moment.
Advice for others
Having a real thirst for knowledge and a passion for what you work on is very helpful. Read up on all sorts of subjects because being a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ is what being a technologist is all about. Work hard at all levels of your education, because even if you can’t see the relevance of it at the time, it’s all useful.
Last but not least: Never stop learning!
Life outside work
I like ‘adventure’ type sports like mountain biking, tramping and skiing, and climbing and kayaking to a lesser extent, though I don’t get out as often as I’d like.
I like cooking at home, but not really catering for parties, more trying interesting dishes, like making curries from scratch.
I’m a bit of a techno-geek and like playing around with computers, stereos and other gadgets, and I have a real curiosity about how things work. I think this is a good attribute for any technologist to have.
(Profile courtesy of Futureintech – www.futureintech.com).
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Real people talk about their jobs in food science, technology & engineering (courtesy of Futureintech: www.futureintech.com):
Simon Loveday, Food Research Scientist for The Riddet Institute, Palmerston North.
Harriet Gibbs, Process Manager for multinational dairy processor Fonterra, Edendale, Southland.
Michelle Lucke, Process Improvement Technologist for prepared foods manufacturer, Heinz Watties, Tomoana, Hastings.
Ben Sutherland, Product Development Technologist for healthy snack manufacturer Mother Earth Foods, Auckland.
Anna Smith, Development Technologist for milk and dairy foods processor Fonterra Brands NZ.
Andrew Hutton, Product Development Technologist for prepared foods manufacturer Heinz Wattie's, Hastings.
More profiles of careers in food technology at Futureintech: www.futureintech.com.
People who have made successful and interesting careers in food science, technology & engineering:
Kay McMath, a food scientist who has specialised in sensory evaluation, particularly in dairy products, becoming a leading judge at the NZ Ice Cream Awards, Massey Food Awards, and Juice & Beverage Awards.
Dr Chris Bloore, a food engineer specialising in milkpowder production, but also heavily involved in process automation and project management.
Dick Hubbard, an early food technology graduate who went on to become a household name, through his Hubbards range of breakfast cereals, and as mayor of our largest city.