“There are so many different jobs and opportunities available. You could be in the lab, you could be in a pilot plant, in the kitchen or factory."

Helen Hougham has worked in a range of jobs in the food industry. “It's a brilliant sector for opportunity,” she says. “In my organisation I've done everything from running pilot plant trials where we develop prototypes on a small scale to test our ideas, to improving the functionality of packaging, to the development and commercialisation of new ingredients.”

Hougham — a chemical engineer by training — moved into the food sector from the petrochemical industry and doesn't regret her decision for a second. She's now Associate Director with food and beverage company, Mondelēz International, based in Bournville, Birmingham, working on strategic initiatives in company R&D.

 

There’s gender diversity in the food industry

 

A STEM career was Hougham's focus from an early age. As a woman in chemical engineering, she admits she was in the minority at university; but that's not the case in her current workplace. “Within this environment, there's a much better mix,” she says. “I also feel supported and no different to my male colleagues. Plus, I enjoy a work-life balance which is important when you have a family to consider.”

 

I love creative problem-solving in my job

 

Bea Allen also works for Mondelēz as a scientist, mainly in recipe development. She joined the company recently after finishing her degree in food science and nutrition (“Which was female dominated!” she says), even though she wasn't a natural at science at school.

“I love the problem-solving aspect of my job,” she reveals. “In my role I have to think about what the consumer wants and apply it to recipes within certain parameters. It's technical but also creative, and I find that so enjoyable.”

Allen agrees that the food industry is as exciting as it is eclectic. “My advice for anyone thinking of joining the sector is 'don't limit yourself to one area of the industry',” she says. “There are so many different jobs and opportunities available. You could be in the lab, you could be in a pilot plant, in the kitchen or factory. I'd suggest exploring lots of roles until you find one that you want to focus on.”

“I would say 'go for it',” echoes Hougham. “If you have a passion for technology and understanding the consumer — and are able to bring those two elements together to make wonderful products — this is a rewarding and fascinating industry.”