Cadbury Dairy Milk is not just a household name in India but also a brand that has defined and shaped societal behaviour though lip-smacking flavours !

Kaustuv Bose, our next pathbreaker, Scientist in Mondelēz R&D (Bournville, UK), works in product development across a wide variety of food based technologies and formats, from Chocobakery based products in India to White Chocolate in Europe.

Kaustuv talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his first role at Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB), where he was responsible for water treatment and water sustainability for their beverage production units!

For students, a career in food technology has several flavours, from quality control, sustainability, research, to the development and manufacturing processes that nourish our appetites !

Kaustuv, Your background?

I was born and brought up in Kolkata and completed my schooling from Don Bosco Park Circus. I come from a middle-class family where speaking in fluent English was definitely not common. But, with the help of my teachers in school, I managed to take baby steps in English speaking, especially while speaking to large audiences. By the time I was in class 12, I had grown to love the stage and the microphone. There was a power in being able to express my ideas to people in a way that they understood and sometimes applauded, which I learnt in school and have harboured in me since then. In school, a couple of things became clear to me – first – I took logical decisions and not emotional decisions, and logic attracted me more as a way of living. Secondly, contradicting the first, I was more attracted to the unpredictability of the artistic realm than the predictability of the hard-coded scientific realm. Though physics and computer sciences did not attract me, I was attracted to the depth of history, the unpredictability of chemistry, the paradoxes of mathematics and the beauty of language. This dichotomy was confusing to an 18-year old, but looking back now, these preferences identified at a young age have been instrumental in shaping my career.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

Marrying together my love for logical decision-making and chemistry, I opted to pursue a Bachelors in Food Technology and Biochemical Engineering from Jadavpur University in Kolkata. To be honest, when I chose this stream, I had no idea it existed and where it would lead me. But there were two factors which guided my decision at that time – firstly, the fees of Jadavpur University is one of the lowest in the country despite it being one of the highest ranked engineering universities in India and secondly, the area where the Venn diagrams of Engineering and Food Chemistry intersected interested me.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

As I grew into life at JU, I started to understand and consequently love the subjects and the scope of the field. By second year, unlike many of my other classmates, I had decided that I would pursue a career in this area. This decision was powered by the fact that I liked the idea of working with food and beverages, something that every single person on the planet interacts with on a daily, even hourly basis. Though many reputed organisations existed in the space and many more were springing up across the country, recruitment of freshers was too low and not as well-coordinated or planned as other engineering streams. This was a challenge as well as an opportunity for me to start creating networks with the seniors from the department who were in the industry in various positions of repute. Talking to my professors and seniors convinced me even more that this was an exciting field to be in.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

Initially, I was unsure of whether to jump into industry right after my undergraduate course or pursue higher studies. Hence, during the 2nd year semester break, I pursued a 2-month internship in a Pepsico manufacturing unit near Kolkata. This, for the first time, gave me the opportunity to witness a beverage manufacturing set-up from proximity. During my 3rd year semester break, I rounded up the experience by spending 4 months in the Nutraceutical Lab within the department at JU, working on a research project under Dr. Paramita Bhattacharjee. This gave me an opportunity to work closely with people in academic research, and the opportunity to get upskilled on multiple high-end laboratory equipment like spectrophotometers and gas chromatography. By the time 4th year arrived, I was clear on what I preferred, and I decided to join the industry.

In my first job at Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB), initially, I was handed the role of troubleshooting repetitive failures in the water treatment system both from a supply and a quality perspective. This involved correct use of data and QC Tools to deliver a hypothesis, prove that through experimentation and then collaborate with a cross-functional team to design solutions to improve efficiency and efficacy. This was achieved in 6 months and the water treatment facility was returned to it’s optimal best performance. Next, I was handed over leadership of the water services department of the factory which meant my team and I were responsible for the continuous supply of the highest quality water to all production lines, ensuring sustainability targets such as water usage ratio (which is essentially how much water is needed to make every liter of beverage) were met and simultaneously execute the solutions as proposed earlier. Additionally, I worked with project teams to expand the capacity of the current treatment facility and also collaborated with cross-functional legal and regulatory partners and external stakeholders to ensure continuous water supply to the factory.

After the first full year, which was filled with learnings, I realized that learnings had started to stagnate and life had become more monotonous. I also realized that the growth that the organization had to offer to me was going to restrict my efforts at maximizing learning in the early years of my career. I was up for a promotion and the two career paths at HCCB could either make me a quality manager or a subject-matter expert in water treatment. I wanted to gain knowledge in a different area and the opportunity at Mondelēz  R&D suited me. This allowed me to change tracks, from manufacturing to R&D, from water to chocolate and from a local role to a global one. It was a huge change, but one that offered much more learning. 

In Mondelēz,  I have worked on a variety of technologies across a variety of product formats. I have worked with rice crispies , different types of cocoa powders for milk chocolates, different fat systems needed to design different chocolates, fillings and creams with different required flow properties and rheological properties as well as different types of ingredients such as different milk powders, cocoa liquors etc. I have worked on a variety of brands including but not limited to Cadbury Dairy Milk, Crackle, Perk, Cadbury White in the UK, Milka White in Germany, Toblerone etc

After an amazing stint across 2 teams and working in realms of product development and digital transformation, I was offered an opportunity to take up a position in the UK which offered multicultural exposure, collaborative work with different markets and an opportunity to work with a whole different array of brands and products. I took it.

How did you get your first break?

I was recruited by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, the Atlanta-owned manufacturing arm of Coca-Cola in India from campus. After a cross-functional training and probationary period of 6 months across India, I was posted in the Ahmedabad factory of HCCB.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: In my first job, one of the foremost key challenges was to be taken seriously and not be brushed aside as most people tend to ignore freshers and new joinees. This was a multi-fold challenge which was overcome through firstly building a technical understanding of the factory and the workflows of each and every aspect, the historical changes and events that have shaped them, followed by focusing on the job at hand and critically analyzing each and every aspect of it, retaining the positives and offering solutions to overcome the negatives. It was easier to convince the technically strong people first and slowly as more and more people listened, herd mentality took over and I was able to get through to almost everyone within the team. It is important to say that it took a lot of patience and did not happen overnight. But, by focusing on the basics and anchoring the decisions in technically sound solutions, I was able to overcome the bias due to my young age.

Challenge 2: Another big challenge in my first job was to lead a team of 10 Gujarati senior technicians when I did not know their language. Within 6 months into my permanent posting in the Ahmedabad factory I was handed complete control over Water Services in Coca-Cola’s biggest Indian factory. This included handling supply and demand challenges, quality issues, legal and regulatory hurdles and managing a team of 10 senior technicians and 1 senior executive who had more experience than me in the factory and whose language I did not speak. I learnt Gujarati to interact better with them, got to know each member of the team individually and ensured that each person’s problems are heard and solved. It was important to reward and recognize their contributions regularly and personally connect with them as much as possible. 

Where do you work now? Can you tell us about your current role?

I am currently a Scientist in Mondelēz R&D UK based out of the R & D technical center in Bournville, UK. After my stint in Coca-Cola, which lasted a little less than 2 years, I moved to Mondelēz India and was based out of their Thane R&D Technical center on the outskirts of Mumbai. 2 years later I moved to the UK within the organization. Since I started working in Mondelēz, I have been in product development with the scope varying from Chocobakery in India to white chocolate in Europe, from deep science tracks in chocolate to cocoa powder alkalization technology. Additionally, I have been responsible for enabling digital transition across different facets of global R&D. Essentially digital transition means upskilling the R&D workforce and investing in the right digital capabilities to make R&D future-ready. 

What are the skills required for your role? How did you acquire them?

While my degree and background have helped me grasp the technical aspects and concepts more rapidly, my stints in factories have also helped me in taking better decisions in projects keeping in mind the reality of manufacturing scenarios which again play a great role in agile delivery. A key skill which has been crucial in all aspects of my role is being able to express my thoughts and plans in simple language and communicating with people from different functions openly with transparency. My focus on logical decision making has enabled me to drive key digital-transition agendas within R&D, ensuring effective communication with internal and external stakeholders.

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day may consist of observing consumer patterns, analyzing consumer data, drawing up project plans, making prototypes on a pilot scale, tasting them (yes this is an added benefit of the job !), discussing failure modes with cross-functional stakeholders etc. A part of the job would also involve taking factory-scale trials and writing reports, while also correctly assessing the confidentiality and intellectual properties associated with the project.

I love the fact that the job enables us to unlock the science that delivers the products consumers love.

How does your work benefit society? 

I get to work with brands (like Cadbury, Milka, Oreo etc) that shape and define societal behaviour. It is an opportunity to make sure that we deliver the right snack to the right consumer made the right way and this entails multiple opportunities to design delicious snacks and also healthy snacks.

Understanding what the consumer desires and being able to design a snacking solution to fulfill that need is truly a very fulfilling job to be in. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Being part of the project team and playing a key role in designing the product, Cadbury Chocobakes cake in India amidst COVID-19 will also remain memorable and special. The project remains an extraordinary experience from designing the product, taking pilot trials and performing scale-up in factories, to pivoting to accommodate COVID-19 into project timelines and doing the unthinkable – i.e. launching an NPD largely working from home or being in a largely empty office. Being able to launch the product one month before the desired launch date while completing every possible due diligence amidst the most difficult of circumstances has been an invigorating life experience.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Don’t force yourself into a career because of parental or peer pressure. It might get you into a so-called desirable college/course in the short run but in the long run if you don’t have a passion for the area you are working in then you will suffer from mental stress and unhappiness. It might pay more but it will cost a lot more to keep doing something you don’t love doing for the rest of our life. 

If you are interested in a career in STEM but have interests in non-STEM areas as well, do not drop them completely. Today there are a lot of avenues to pursue education online and you can upskill yourself and keep yourself informed and knowledgeable in other areas alongside pursuing a professional degree in STEM. Leverage the vast knowledge on the internet. Your additional areas of interest are what will give you an edge over others in the future. Everyone should have a healthy worldview fed by non-STEM subjects despite pursuing STEM careers, otherwise STEM graduates will be siloed in their bubbles which lack reality.

Future Plans?

I plan to keep working in the space I am currently in and will hope to marry the consumer needs with core science learnings, digital tools and deployable technologies.