The food industry has always been at the forefront of innovation, through the development of products for diverse consumers based on tastes, flavours and aromas ! !

Chandni Chawla, our next pathbreaker, R&D Manager at Grupo Bimbo (Canada), the largest bakery in the world, works with r&d, supporting them in creating new products as well as conducting sensory evaluation of all bakery products.

Chandni talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her career in the food industry across different roles and the experience of working on so many household products (Maggi, Lays, Kurkure).

For students, a career in food science is as diverse as it gets, with an opportunity to work closely with chefs, product developers and consumers which makes it enjoyable !

Chandni, Your background?

I grew up in the capital of India, New Delhi and studied in DAV public school. I was born in a middle class family. My parents used to run a small business in Delhi and always motivated us to get educated. I was lucky to get educated in an English medium private school which used to be a luxury. 

I always wanted to be a doctor as that was the most famous profession while I was growing up and was always correlated for being rich, and who does not want to be rich 😊

I used to enjoy cooking while I was a kid and used to get rewarded for my cooking skills by my parents.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I was unable to crack the medical exam, so I enrolled in Bachelors of Science program in Delhi University though I was not very sure about it. I came across a course called Food Science & Technology offered by Delhi University, and changed my mind and shifted to take admission in that course. Luckily, I got selected in Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences which was not a very famous college. Because I was excited by the curriculum, I went ahead and enrolled in the course. I used to love the subjects and practical applications associated with the same. I graduated with great scores from Delhi University and then moved to Amritsar to pursue my master’s in food science from Guru Nanak Dev University.

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

This course was related to practical applications and was becoming famous as the food industry was booming across the world. I spoke to a few people who guided me in choosing this as my career path. I wanted to grab a good job and the prospects of getting a job in this industry were high, so I kept my focus on completing my studies. I got an opportunity to work in the food industry as a trainee as a part of my course requirements which gave me an insight on the potential of this industry. I was convinced to make my career in Food Science.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Tell us about your career path

Getting the first job is a dream for everyone. Luckily, I got my first job through my campus interview. I joined a startup which was setting up a plant for organic fruits and vegetables in Dehradun. Like everyone, I was super excited as I got the job even before completing my Masters. I was passionate to achieve all the targets which were provided to me and was learning on the job. Unfortunately that startup shutdown due to some unforeseen circumstances and I had to move to another job which was in Hyderabad.

I started working for Heritage Foods as a Product Developer where I used to develop new products for the organization and conduct quality audits. Heritage Foods is one of the largest dairy manufacturers in Southern India with a big plant in Hyderabad, they used to have retail stores as well. I used to work in Research and Development where I was working on launching private label products for them and conducting quality audits for their retail stores.

I was very open to exploring all the areas at this stage as I was too new in the food industry. This approach helped me learn a lot.

Since I was staying away from my parents, I thought about moving back with them and started applying for jobs in Delhi after some time. Fortunately, I was able to grab a position in Confederation of Indian Industry as a regulatory specialist and my role was to work with key members of the food Industry and liaise with the Government and share implications of different regulations on the food industry. 

Any food which exists in the market has to comply with food regulations of that specific country. FSSAI is the governing authority in India. So, any food product being sold in the market must comply with the regulations laid down by FSSAI. All food industries have a regulatory department which makes sure that the product being manufactured complies to the country regulations. For example, any juice drink which has to be sold in the market should meet minimum juice percentage criteria to call it a juice drink.

I wanted to do more, and hence started looking for opportunities which gave me more in-depth knowledge around manufacturing processes and r&d of food products. Fortunately, I was able to crack an interview with PepsiCo and started working as a product developer for beverages. This role provided me with in-depth knowledge of food product development and other aspects of the food industry. I stayed in PepsiCo for nine years and moved into different roles in the company. I started working as a Beverage Product developer in the organization and worked on a famous brand called Slice and other juice drinks like Tropicana. The role included creating juice drinks and gave me an opportunity to explore my creative side. After my beverage role, I took up a role in the Seasoning function where I was leading the creation of flavors for famous brands like Kurkure. Lays, Namkeens etc. This role involved a lot of cross functional work and creating flavours for the future which was super exciting.

My time in PepsiCo made me flexible and knowledgeable in different areas as I developed expertise in Seasoning and Flavour Development as well. Being in PepsiCo was one of the treasures of my life as it helped me to become what I am today and taught me a lot of technical and people skills. I am thankful to my managers and mentors for being with me and guiding me all the time. 

As it was already nine years in PepsiCo, I wanted to achieve more and started looking for opportunities outside. I came across a role in Nestle which was a senior leadership position in the R & D center and the role was related to Consumer and Sensory Science. I embraced the role and joined the team. 

Consumer and Sensory Science is a very interesting area of work which links sensory acceptance of any food product with Consumer Likeability. Sensory Science measures attributes like appearance, aroma, taste, flavour for any product, and linking it with consumer acceptance makes it complete. This role entails working closely with chefs, product developers and consumers which makes it enjoyable.

Suddenly, we as a family decided to move to Canada to explore life further and I had to quit my role in Nestle and again look for a job. I applied at a few places in Canada and finally got my job at Grupo Bimbo which is the Largest Bakery in the WORLD. I am leading the Sensory and Consumer Science department in Canada for all the Baked Categories.

My journey has been quite interesting and there is one thing which helped me in getting to where I am today, and that is being curious. Networking always supports us in our journeys, and making great relationships goes a long way for sure.

How did you get your first break? 

I got my first job through a campus interview.

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

Salary: My biggest challenge was salary. I started earning only 9000 Rupees as my first salary, primarily for gaining experience and learning, which was more important than salary at that moment. Hence, I dedicated all my energy and focus to the job which was assigned to me. Money is very important in life, but if you are getting an opportunity to learn something new while you are getting paid there is nothing more wonderful than that opportunity. 

Competition: Your peers may earn more than you and might be at higher positions than you, never ever compare your journey with anyone. Your journey is unique, so be proud of all your achievements, be it small or big. I have always focused on my skill set development and my learnings rather than focusing on others.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your current role?

For the last 3 years, I have been working for the world’s largest Bakery called Grupo Bimbo in Canada. My role involves working with the research and development team and supporting them in creating new products and improving existing products and studying consumers. I do a lot of sensory evaluation of all the food products which is a super amazing part of my role. I get to taste so many kinds of food products each day.

How does your work benefit society? 

Food is the most important part of our lives; I am proud to be able to contribute to society by creating food products which can be enjoyed by all the age groups across the WORLD.

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

Any new product launch or improvement in the product is always close to me. I have worked on so many products and seeing them on the shelf in the retail stores and other stores brings joy to me. Kurkure, Lays, Maggi, Breads all are super close to my heart.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Always remember that no work is big or small, even a small thing done with dedication can lead to mega success. Hence, whatever you are doing, do it with excellence, no one can stop you if you have passion and energy.

Be nice to people, you never know who will meet you again. People always remember how you made them feel, so help them in whatever way you can.

Future Plans?

I will continue to be part of the food Industry and contribute in creating great products to nourish people. I am also pursuing Health Coach Training as my passion and will start my coaching soon.