As of 2016, Singapore is the home to more than 6,500 food and beverage (F&B) establishments and an estimated 750 companies in the food-processing sector – placing F&B products in the FMCG sector as the frontrunners of the industry. The ultimate objectives for food technologists in this industry are to optimise food processing and to improve the quality of the food for the general public.
Aside from improving the quality of existing products, food technologists also research and develop new F&B products. As a food technologist, you may also be tasked to develop and improve the preservation, processing, packaging, storage and safety of F&B products while adhering to the government and industry standards.
In the FMCG and consumer goods sector, food technologists are required for different types of food products, such as dairy products, home baking products and frozen products. Quite often, you will specialise in a type or range of products depending on the employer as well as your expertise and skill set. For instance, a food technologist can choose to specialise in tinned goods.
Food technologists are often required to work in a range of locations each week. For instance, they could be spending time in the office, the store, in laboratories, and sometimes may even need to visit suppliers wherever they are based.
The tasks that are assigned to food technologists vary according to the product they are working on as well as the location of where they are working in. In the office, the responsibilities of a food technologist include sampling products, going through packaging designs, following up on customer complaints and more.
On the other hand, when visiting suppliers, they will have to review a certain product, examine its specifications to make sure they meet compliance standards, as well as to investigate complaints if required.
In terms of career structure, most graduates either join graduate schemes or start out with entry-level jobs. The job title you will typically get in an entry-level role include ‘assistant technologist’ or ‘trainee technologist’. During your graduate scheme, you’re likely to learn about products in retail stores and to get to know the operations involved.
The exposure in retails stores is aimed to give graduates hand-on experience and for you to later go on to develop products that customers would want to purchase. As you gradually work your way up to manage your own set of products, you may find yourself with opportunities for advancement into senior technologist or managerial positions. However, advancement may entail relocation or a change of employer.
To become a food technologist, graduates will need a degree in a relevant subject, such as food science or technology, food or chemical engineering, biochemistry, nutrition, microbiology or chemistry. Graduates with work experience in the food production line or by working as a technician would stand out and have a better chance at securing a job in this line of work. Other useful experiences include food processing, laboratory or quality assurance work, and even business management or marketing.
As for personal requirements, on the other hand, food technologists need to have an outstanding eye for detail, especially with regard to food hygiene and safety, and the ability to be accurate. As you will be required to work in a team, team working ability is a quality that is highly sought after by recruiters. Food technologists are also required to be good at problem solving, planning, and organising, so analytical skills and the ability to work under pressure are valued in this line of work.
Another requirement to point out is the need for you to have good hand-eye coordination. This is because you will often have to deal with experiments that involve weighing and measuring precise amounts.
Ups and Downs
If you are vegetarian or have convictions about permitted food, you may feel limited about where you can work. However, as we are moving towards a more diverse and thoughtful world, this is increasingly understood by the industry and work can be arranged and managed accordingly.
Another aspect of this area of work that graduates should be warned about is that extensive travel within the working day can be expected. The need for a food technologist to visit suppliers’ factories for audit and sampling purposes may take up more time than what the typical working hours permit.
The silver lining however, is that as you advance in your career in this field, it is possible for you to move to other business areas, such as technology, business development or sales, where your expertise and specialist knowledge will be an advantage.
Whether or not they branch out into a different profession later in their career, the biggest reward for food technologists is knowing that they’ve made a real impact in making sure that the food and beverage products on the shelves of retail stores and supermarkets are of high quality and safe to consume.