Creativity is typically associated with Artwork such as paintings, illustrations and great designs.

However there is another aspect of creativity seldom spoken about. Working behind the scenes, there are several professionals who experiment with seemingly ordinary raw materials and develop them into delicious flavours which not only meet our everyday needs in terms of nutrition but also are a great hit with kids in terms of taste!

Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal speaks to Savitha Hassan about her career as a Food Technologist.

Savitha, a brief introduction about yourself?

I did all my schooling at Mysore. Till 10th Standard I studied in Nirmala Convent. I did my Pre University College (PUC) from SBRR Mahajana College.

I was a typical 90s kid, growing up when the internet was evolving and taking shape. I belong to a middle class family. My father was a Pediatrician and was HOD of Pediatric department at Cheluvamba Hospital , Mysore  and my mother is a Homemaker and  has a Bachelors degree in Arts and has completed General Nursing training.

My brother did his PhD (Biochemistry) at Central Food technological Research Institute and then was a Doctoral Research Fellow at ‘Penn State University’ followed by Post Doctoral Fellow  at’ Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine’ ( inStem).

Currently he is working as Assistant Professor at MS Ramaiah College of Arts Science and Commerce.

What did you study?

I did my Bachelor of Science – BSc in Biochemistry, Botany, and Microbiology at Maharani Science College for Women (University of Mysore). I have a Masters Degree in Food Science and Technology from CFTRI. I am currently working as Manager – Seasonings Dept at Madurai.

What were some of the influences that shaped what you are today?

Though my father was a Doctor, he never tried to influence me to choose medical line. Infact, he wanted me to do IAS and become a IAS officer. I was very confused though. At that time, Engineering and Medical were the main career choices and most of my friends chose one of those careers.

Though I wasn’t clear about what I wanted to do, I was thinking of a career in Life Sciences. I was interested in Pure Science since childhood and along with that I never loved Mathematics as a subject. My brother also influenced me in a big way. He did his BSc in Biochemistry, Botany and Microbiology and MSc in Microbiology. I followed his steps and decided to do BSc.

What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

My father passed away just after I completed 12th. Subsequently, I did my Bachelor of Science – BSc in Biochemistry, Botany, and Microbiology at Maharani Science College for Women (University of Mysore). But I still didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do after my bachelors. My brother had chosen an academic path and was pursuing his PhD, but I was not that much interested in pursuing PhD. I had decided to take up a job and knew that skill based courses will help in this. Moreover, I wanted to support my family. That was the only thing on my mind at that time.

My professors at college told me about a Masters Degree program at CFTRI (Central Food Technical Research Institute, Mysore) in Food Science & Technology. Since I was looking for a job, they said that CFTRI had a very small group of students and most of them would get a job through the campus since it was a very application and industry driven course.

And coincidently even my Brother had joined the same Institute to pursue his PhD.

I had never heard of this Food technology course at CFTRI at that time but since I wanted a job, I took the entrance exam and got admission at the institute

How was the experience at CFTRI?

CFTRI had an All-India entrance exam in basic school subjects and their batch size was around 25-26 students, one from each state. Anyone with a degree related to science could apply. We had to stay in the hostel even if the student belonged to Mysore.

The institute is a pioneer in Food Technology and that is the only Masters degree program offered at CFTRI. The courses are taught by scientists who are renowned for their research in food. They have fantastic facilities within the campus to carry out any kind of research in food.

The course itself was multi-faceted. We were exposed to the entire range of the Food Technologies related to Food Engineering, Grain Science, Baking technology, Meat and Poultry, Food analysis, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Agriculture , Plantations Products and Spices, Food chemistry, Sensory, Fruits and Vegetable processing , Food Packaging etc. The focus was on breadth rather than depth. The goal of the program was to provide students with a well-rounded understanding of Food Technology and groom us to step into the Food industry based on solid fundamentals and latest trends.

During the last 6 months we are supposed to do dissertation and Investigation. For that each student has to take up a research project under a CFTRI guide. The project is carried out inside CFTRI where we have access to all the labs and facilities needed to conduct food research. 

Can you tell us about your dissertation?

Dissertation: Studies on Fenugreek

Synopsis of the work: A thorough Study about uses of fenugreek oil, Methods of extracting oil from seeds and the effect of Grinding on the extraction of oil

Investigation: Grinding Studies and Extraction of Oil (By solvent extraction and supercritical Carbon di-oxide)

Publication: Savitha, H.G.; Manohar, B. Studies on grinding and extraction of oil from fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) seed. Int. J. Food Eng. 2015

What was your first job in the Food industry?

During campus placements, pretty much every food company visited our campus. We had Nestle, PepsiCo, Britannia to name a few. CFTRI also had a rule that if a student was selected by a specific company, he/she couldn’t participate in subsequent campus interviews. So I had to really think about each company and whether it was the right fit based on what I wanted to do.

Among all the bigwigs of the food industry, there were also a few niche companies that visited the campus. One of them was VKL Seasoning Pvt Ltd, a a company specialized in Seasoning Formulation. VKL is a B2B company that makes seasonings for other companies to include in their products. VKL is based in Kerala.

How did you get the your first break?

During the interview, VKL wanted to test my sensory skills and my ability to identify the particular aroma and flavour extracts and to identify ingredients in a given Seasoning. Since they were mainly into flavouring they needed a person who could identify individual spices that contribute to the seasoning. That was the most important skill that they wanted. Apart from sensory skills, passion for Food is also a criteria.

I did well in the interview and they selected me. The reason I attended this interview was, I wasn’t too keen on joining the giants of the Food industry (like Nestle, PepsiCo) because my role there would have been limited and mostly spent on the process management. At VKL I knew I would have the opportunity to take on a larger role, be creative and learn a lot as a new recruit.

Tell us about your career path after your masters

I had to move to Ernakulam, my first experience of moving to a different state, Kerala. I was placed in the R&D department at VKL, focused on Spice Formulation. My role was that of a Formulation Developer, identifying and creating new flavors based on different spice combinations. 

Over a period of 6 months I learned how to make seasonings based on my own formula, application of the seasoning in real products like chips, noodles, popcorn , meat etc and was even involved in scaling up of the seasoning for manufacturing and selling to other businesses.

Slowly I started handling the full cycle of products from market research to production as well as customer feedback to make changes to R&D based on their input. I would also work with sales, marketing, quality assurance and the regulatory team to make sure what we created met the goals from pricing, positioning, quality  and regulatory perspective.

My work involved conducting analysis, decoding the target product and eventually replicating the seasoning. I also perform sensory evaluation of various products (wet recipes), seasonings and work with chefs for better understanding of products and demonstration.

After 3 years, VKL offered me an opportunity to head the R&D at their Dubai office. When I was in India I was handling both Indian and Middle-Eastern customers. So they wanted me to go to Dubai to work more closely with Middle-Eastern customers to focus on MENA region projects pertaining to the requirements of Middle East region. I worked closely with Customers to provide food solutions and conducted product demonstrations. I was also a technical support to Internal Sales and Marketing teams in order to pitch to important customers.

Dubai was very different experience. There we only 3 of us, a chef, a salesperson and myself. We had to take care of everything including office administration, meeting customers and trying out new formulations. I stayed in Dubai for 2 years and came back to India in 2018.

What do you do currently?

I joined OROR Flavours and Chemicals Pvt Ltd, a flavor company in Madurai as Manager for New Product Development (Seasonings). As I said earlier, I love new challenges. When I joined VKL, I wanted to learn as much as I could and I knew that was possible only in a smaller company. 5 years at VKL gave me a lot of exposure to the workings of the food industry.

Now I was ready to take on bigger challenges. I wanted to work for a company that gave me freedom to drive their business. At OROR, I report directly to our MD. So I have a much larger responsibility in driving the company’s growth in flavours and seasonings.

OROR creates flavours for the bakery, beverages, confectionary, ice cream and pharma industries. Some of our customers are Parle, Britannia, PepsiCo etc. We have a great team of highly experienced flavor professionals who have worked in the food industry for more than 20 years. Here I have setup a lab, trained people and developed new products and seasonings for Indian , Bangladesh, Middle East , Nepal , Africa and Srilankan Markets.

We are also recruiting students from colleges to train them and equip them with skills to become the next generation food technologists because the world needs them.

What were some the challenges that you have faced in your career? How have you addressed them?

I think the biggest challenge for me was when I was a student who grew up in a protected environment in Mysore having never travelled outside. When I got my first job, I had to move to a new state, meet new people and overcome the language barrier. At that time there were so many challenges that I had to overcome at the same time. But when you think about why you came here all those challenges disappear because your end goal is much important than the challenges that you face.

Working under pressure and meeting deadlines are major drivers that eventually build confidence and these qualities helped me achieve a lot in a short span of time.

Similarly when I was in Dubai we had very few resources to run the company. But I looked at it as a period of learning and took on the challenge.

These are the challenges that have made me what I am today. 

Can you tell us what are the skills needed to be a Food Technologist?

As a Food Technologist, you are dealing with Food all in all. Food is one of the Basic needs of Human Life. So it’s an immense responsibility, because the food is ultimately ‘consumed’ by consumers. We are more creative than other species and we have always tried to innovate food. We enjoy the aroma, the appearance, the texture, the colour and the taste. We find new solutions to make the food we eat better for our body, health and even to satisfy all the senses.

Food technologists have multiple roles to play, and based on interest a food technologist can either work in R&D, Production, QA/QC, Regulatory and even in Sales and Marketing.

Creativity and working under pressure are very important. Deadlines are very tight and one needs to meet those deadlines. One should also be aware of latest market trends as well as regulatory and legal requirements. Ability to work with customers and listen to them while communicating your work is important. Sensory skills are very important in my line of work.

A food technologist’s role is very team oriented. So you have to be a team player and understand other perspectives whether it is Sales or R&D or any other department.

What is a typical day like?

At OROR, my typical day is formulating new seasonings, creating new ideas and concepts to satisfy our customer needs. I also coordinate with other departments for inputs and keep track on projects, trying to fill in the gaps and help closing the projects on time.

Iam also in constant touch with customers to provide food solutions based on understanding their brief as well as looking after Product scale up and supervising the quality of the Products.

As per need I travel to meet different customers for presenting our products and providng technical strength to our sales team.

What is it you love about this job? Can you talk about a memorable project that you did and why?

One word “Food”. I respect food a lot more now and it’s an entirely different world. I never thought growing up that I would be in this field , but now that I am, I can’t ask for a better field to build my career. Every day is a new day for me, as the job is not repetitive, because there is so much to develop every day, that one will never get bored.

All the projects that I have handled are important for me. Working for QSR (Quick Service Restaurants) category was one of my memorable period.

At the end of the day, when i see a product which has a seasoning developed by me which is getting sold at a Supermarket or at a Reputed Quick Service Restaurant chain it is the joy of satisfaction. Consumers enjoy the product which I have developed which is a boost to my confidence.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Don’t worry if you have not decided what you want to become. Enjoy the journey, always try to learn new things and understand your passions and strengths. Even if you are confused, be calm and enjoy what you learn.

Getting a job or building a career is always not about money. It’s about work satisfaction and you need to build a career in a field where your passion is and growth will follow automatically.

Once you have entered a field, don’t hesitate to quit and join another field. As I said, job satisfaction is the most important thing.

Learning never stops, today’s world is filled with opportunities to learn and innovate new things. Always light the creativity inside you.

Be aware of what is happening in and around you, observe how the world is shifting and think about what you can contribute to the betterment of this world.

Never feel ashamed  to learn from others. Try building contacts and share knowledge with each other.

There will be sacrifices required when you build a career, but everything will eventually will shape up once you find your path of success. So Have ‘Patience’!!

If you are passionate about food, you want to find new food solutions and create new products in Food Sector then Food technology is a course for you. There are many Reputed Institutes in India who are providing food technology course.(BSc/MSc/BTech/MTech)

Future Plans?

I want to continue in Food Sector. And in future I look at myself as an Employer.

I am in a sector which has the power to feed millions and improve People’s health. The Food sector family is very big joint family and I want to contribute in making  Life Better through Food.