Concocting Solutions: The Life of a Liquid Innovator

Categories: Workplace

Ever wanted to be a scientist, creating interesting concoctions for people? A real food scientist shares her experience with us.

From her high school days, Enid was well aware that her strengths at school were in biology and chemistry, but not mathematics and physics. She also knew she wanted a job with more real-life application than theory. 

“The key is knowing yourself,” she said. “I knew my strengths and what I liked, so when my university offered a challenging accelerated 5-year Bachelor’s and Master’s program in Food Science, which comprises a lot of chemistry and biology, I went for it.” 

After graduating from food science, Enid decided to pursue the branch of product development, as opposed to the alternative of quality assurance, as she knew she liked the variation and diversity in tasks it offered, as opposed to the structured routines when working in quality. 

“What I didn’t expect though, was to end up in one of the most fun categories of product development, which is liquid development in alcohol,” she said.

“It happened after I graduated and returned to Hong Kong. I got a call from a headhunter about an opportunity to work in the UK in Diageo, a huge company in the alcohol industry. They were looking for someone to set up operations in Hong Kong and create drinks from scratch. 

“I was very, very young with barely any experience. But my lack of experience didn’t matter as I would be shipped to the UK for two years when I start the job, to learn the trade from the ground up.”

Peer Pressure & Choosing an Unconventional Science

“My parents are from an older generation and to be honest, I don’t think they understood what food science was. On top of that, imagine how they felt about their daughter being whisked away to the UK to work in an alcohol company.

“It was a scary and big decision, but it felt like the world was my oyster. So of course, I took the job opportunity!”

“The good thing is that my parents trusted and supported me. As for my friends and peers, the general response was ‘What is food science?’ and ‘Why don’t you do something more mainstream?’ 

“You see, food sciences are not a mainstream or popular major, especially in Asia. Half of my high school friends are doctors, a quarter of them are accountants, and quite a few of them are either in IT or finance.

“So again, knowing yourself, and what you like and dislike, are very important. You should follow your heart and be brave enough to walk your own path,” Enid said.

“The food science industry is underrated and not thoroughly understood by a lot of people. As a result, and from what I observe, the demand for such scientists is always high, and they have more opportunities to choose from” she added.

Enid (second from left) with her Innovation R&D team.

Liquid Development: Where Creativity Meets Science

Enid loves that each day of her job as the Head of Liquid Innovation, is different and exciting, since most of her work is project based. After reviewing the brief in terms of what is required for each project, she and her team spend time in the lab trying different methods to develop the liquid.

Creating a liquid flavor profile that will delight consumers requires creativity just like a chef cooking with different ingredients, but it doesn’t stop there. “All the different elements of the liquid such as the appearance, smell, texture and the mouthfeel should deliver what the concept said it would,” shares Enid. “It’s where creativity meets science.”

She also has to consider how consumers would actually use the product and how the occasion might influence how the product is drunk. “For example, creating gin for a martini would be quite different to creating a gin that is supposed to be mixed with tonic water.

“In a martini, the gin is the hero, so you can let it shine on its own. But in a gin and tonic, the tonic brings out flavours such as notes of citrus or bitterness of the quinine. So when designing a drink, you need to take all the relevant factors into consideration to make sure the drink tastes good and balanced.”

It doesn’t end with creating the drink either, there needs to be testing of the stability of the product to make sure it is safe for consumption. 

“We also need to ensure that it can be made down the line in a factory in an efficient way for the product to be produced in a consistent manner, and at the highest possible quality,” she said.

A Lesson Learnt in Every Rejection

In the line of innovation, not all products see the light of day. To put things into context, on average, 80% of innovations either fail to make it to market or end up failures after they are launched. “So adapting your mindset is important,” Enid said.

One innovation Enid was most proud of creating many years ago, was a unique liqueur with a very frothy texture, like a cross between cappuccino foam and a milkshake. The bottle, pressurized with nitrous oxide, was also specially designed to house the drink.

“You don’t have to mix the drink yourself. Once you pour it out, it will automatically expand itself into double the volume to have a frothy milkshake texture, and it’s ready to drink. Sadly, it didn’t make it to the market, as there were some concerns about the consumer’s perception after we did market testing.”

As the drink was meant to foam up to twice its size, it would occupy only half the bottle, and early testers felt that it created the perception that people might not get their money’s worth.

Hence, the product was rejected. Enid and her team had worked on this product for months. But the failure did not get her or her team down. She shared some wise words: “If you can honestly say you have done everything you can within your power on the part of the product you are responsible for, I think this is your part of the product accomplished.

“We cannot take everything on our shoulders and we shouldn’t. One of my seniors, a very talented innovator, taught me that ‘in every product failure, you learn something new.’

“So what we should do is avoid the same mistake. Making the same mistakes would be inexcusable.”

Enid (left) works with her team on a new, innovative product.

Assess, Process, Progress

Reflecting on the last two decades of her career, Enid laughs and says “I think I am more confident, and a bit less introverted than when I first started at Diageo. I also think I’ve now learnt more ways to manage situations and my communication skills have gotten better.”

“To me, this is the best job in the world. I mean, I am incredibly fortunate to work with amazing brands who create the best alcohols in liquid development, and get paid for it!

“It is also great that I got to live in five different countries, and travel to many more, as we set up different factories and labs around the world” she said.

 Enid shared some practical advice that has personally helped her in her journey thus far: “Before you make a decision, it is important to really understand your own strengths and weaknesses and what you are willing to give and take in professional situations. Be honest and realistic.”

 “It doesn’t matter if your career path is dominated by men or is hugely different from your peers,” said Enid. “Hard work trumps talent. 

“A lot of people judge others based on their talent. But if you look at me — I wouldn’t call myself a particularly talented person. But I’m willing to learn, I’m willing to get my hands dirty. And that is what brought me to where I am.”

This article was published in partnership with Diageo Southeast Asia to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Responses

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *