Cool job: Chocolate developer
Elena Grouios (BSc 2009 Victoria, MMI 2010) has parlayed her two U of T degrees – in nutritional sciences/human biology and in management innovation – into any chocolate lover’s dream job. The 26-year-old works in a Toronto factory as a product developer for Mondelez International, a food company that manages Cadbury brands, and her business card reads “Product Development Scientist, Chocolate”.
I guess we don’t need to ask if you like chocolate…
You do need to like it in this job, absolutely. My favourite changes day to day, but my favourite when I was growing up was the Wunderbar. And we make Wunderbar here – oh my goodness. So much Wunderbar in my diet right now.
Help us visualize what you do every day. Pouring chocolate into test tubes?
We have different types of equipment that we use to make chocolate from scratch, or make different products into different forms. As a product developer, I formulate and reformulate recipes, do tests on chocolate, and make new products with different flavours. I have to know the basics of fat science and sugar science and milk science to figure out how to make something new. And yes, taste testing is part of the job!
Have you invented a chocolate that’s hit the market?
My first project was the Dairy Milk line extension: new flavours for Dairy Milk chocolate bars. Five of them came out just recently: the pretzel and peanut butter, the toasted coconut cashew, the hazelnut cashew, the salted peanut and the cookie crunch. That was very fun. Seeing them in the store was the ultimate checkmark – so satisfying.
What are the challenges in inventing a new chocolate product?
If you want to put on the science hat, there’s compatibility issues – you can’t put just anything in chocolate. My job is to figure out how to make different ingredients work – and what will be a challenge. Then I frame those technical challenges to the company as risks, or as opportunities for intellectual property or competitive advantages. From a business perspective it’s also what do we think is going to be the next big thing, what do we think our consumers are going to love. For ultimately, our boss is the consumer.
You’ve spent some time in Cadbury’s UK factory, the one that was the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Tell us more about that?
The rumour is that Roald Dahl used to visit that area when he was little, and that’s where his inspiration had come from. The factory is so big, but everybody knows each other and absolutely loves what they’re doing. They’re so passionate. It’s like being in the ultimate science lab, surrounded by chocolate.
Guess they don’t have a shrinking machine or a Great Glass elevator…
I haven’t seen those yet. It’s quite big, so they may be hiding.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
The coolest is making something from scratch, really and truly going from an idea to something that you can hold in your hand. I remember watching a show in a park with some friends, and this guy in front of us was eating a pretzel peanut butter bar, the one I had worked on. He said, “This is the most amazing bar ever!” My friend wanted me to talk to him but I said, “No, that’s okay, this is as happy as I’m going to get right now.”
You don’t realize how much you push yourself, and how much you grow, when you’re doing something that you really are interested in. And in research and development you’re constantly learning – it really keeps your day going. Not everybody can be a chocolate scientist, but people can certainly be in a job in which they love to learn. That’s what makes it cool.