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Wheat/ Weetabix

Daniel Hefft - Turning Science into Profit

We're incredibly proud when one of our team are asked to return to their universities, it's even better when they're interviewed for their careers pages. Great work Daniel!

Here's the interview from The University of Edinburgh:

We are delighted to feature a guest blog post from Daniel Hefft, Process Development Engineer at Weetabix. We met Daniel at an Institute for Food Science and Technology (IFST) event recently and were blown away by his enthusiasm for the sector...and excited by the growth in opportunities for students and graduates of multiple disciplines. Who knew there was so much science in the making of a Weetabix?!

Degree subject and year of graduation?

2014: Graduated from the University of Applied Sciences Ostwestfalen-Lippe (Germany) in Food Science and Technology - cereal and confectionary science (BSc), along with an Engineer’s certificate. 2016: Graduated from the University of Reading (England) in Food Technology – Quality Assurance (MSc).

Brief career history?

Starting in a small company of about 100 people as a Product and Quality Manager in 2014, I then joined a leading cake manufacturer as Head of Production. Currently I am working as a Product Development Engineer at Weetabix in Burton Latimer. I deal with process design, lean operations management, scale-up, new product development and process support on a day to day basis. Wherever there is a production issue linked to the process in one of our factories it is our job to use our expertise to get processes running again while meeting quality standards.

Big or small company?

Many of my peers wanted to go straight into one of the big players after they graduated. However, I think small companies are a great place to start. They have limited staff, so you have a great opportunity to work in several roles simultaneously. This helps you to cope with big responsibilities, and identify the  kind of role you are really interested in.

In a big company you will often work in a much more tightly defined role. If you already know the exact job you want to go into, starting off in a big company will really suit you; you will have more resources available and will have the pleasure of working on brands that large numbers of people know and love. Just be careful not to disappear (!)and be prepared to maybe work that bit harder to bring about change when structures and ways of working are well established.

Where was your current job advertised? Why did it appeal?

I found my job advertised on LinkedIn. It appealed because I love working in a challenging environment, dealing with applied science and solving problems. I think Weetabix is looking for innovative people who have a solid understanding of science and processes. You also need to be able to work in a team and be willing to improve yourself continuously. You have the chance to travel around a lot , attending external and internal training.

Which other organisations offer similar roles?

I think the way the R&D department at Weetabix is organised is unique and that is why I love working here. However, every food manufacturer will need Process Engineers.

Can you describe a typical week in your job? With your crystal ball, what does the future for your sector/job look like?

Tough question. No day is the same. One day I work on developing a new product, the next day I am working on a technology project and I often visit one of our co-manufacturers or production sites around the globe. One thing every week has is meetings, focussing on one of our products, food safety or manufacturability. Looking into the future, there will be a massive demand for food engineers. Food engineering is a dying out discipline and this will give those passionate about the industry a great chance to start their career.

Best/Worst parts of the job?

Best parts: working with people on big projects, conducting research and applying science Worst parts: sometimes sitting in meetings can be tiring

What does your team look like?

My team is a mix of food scientists, chemical engineers, metallurgists, food engineers, pharmacists and biologists.  Each of us plays our part in producing the end product. For example, chemical engineers are highly skilled to perform HAZOPs and analyse the process, food engineers look at food transformation processes and food safety and the biologist is important when it comes to log reductions.

Why choose the food industry above other related industries?

In my opinion, the chemical industry is not always very stable to crisis, whereas the food and pharmaceutical industry survive times of crisis much better. The pharmaceutical industry spends big on research. Also the pharmaceutical industry has many blockbuster products, what is a very rare occasion in the food industry. One example for a blockbuster in the food industry is Red Bull.

Where new developments in the pharmaceutical industry can take decades,  the food industry is continually under pressure to come up with new flavours, products and dealing with changing legislation so if  you love working in a fast moving and highly dynamic market, I can recommend going into food.

The sheer scale of the industry and large numbers of food companies means there are more roles to choose from than perhaps in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.

How have you used the skills and knowledge from your degree in your job?

It is all about creating connections between all the subjects from my degree. For example baking a biscuit will involve so much I have learned – sensory: flavour development, chemistry: browning (Maillard reaction) & starch gelatinisation, food processing: heat transfer, mass balances, engineering: oven constructions, and much more.

What extracurricular experience (eg work experience, volunteering, societies, sports, interests etc) do you believe helped you get where you are today?

Being involved in professional bodies is a big help. It gives you the opportunity to go to interesting seminars, getting professionally recognised and building your own network.

Sports is also important – I do love hiking. It helps you to clear the mind or take the necessary time to develop new ideas.

What advice would you give to students wishing to enter your field of work?

Be confident that your degree has given you the necessary knowledge to enter the food sector, join a professional body, build up your network and be passionate about food.