Thousands of people, hundreds of sites, local functions and divisions all play their part. But at the heart of what we do is a very human experience, whereby flavourists bring their vast expertise to develop unique, winning flavours for customers.
Kim is a senior flavourist working out of Givaudan Flavours in Cincinnati, USA. Kim has been with the Company for 20 years, in a career that has seen her rise to become an expert in her chosen field, and whose activities include creating and tasting many different flavours a day, to help meet customer briefs originate new commercial opportunities and ultimately provide consumers with pleasing flavours.
With degrees in microbiology and chemistry, Kim’s journey with Givaudan started out in Cincinnati in Sensory Quality Control, as she explains: “My initial role was to taste over 100 flavours a day for approval to ship. As part of the process, I started to taste individual molecules, to figure out the role they played in finished flavours. This helped me to learn and grow my knowledge at a granular level about flavours over a three-year period. I then moved into the Flavour Creation area learning and developing alongside a really great flavourist. After that I entered a three-year flavourist training programme at Givaudan: one of six people chosen from 60, to further expand my ability and talent to create flavours.”
Brilliant taste buds
Over the course of her training, Kim had to accurately identify over 1,000 material and chemical components, often discussing nuances within a group setting and committing them to paper, but more importantly to memory. The flavourist’s key tool is of course the tongue, and Kim emphasises the role of refinement that took place in developing her skills sets: “All of us had to pass a rigorous two-day test to see how accurately we could differentiate differences in flavour, fine-tuning the tongue in the process. Most people wouldn’t really be able to differentiate, or describe, the difference between, say, two oranges. But the more you taste the deeper you dig, and you begin to identify the different elements within a taste, such as different esters and aldehydes. Having the terminology to articulate nuances in a meaningful way is also key.”
Whilst science is at the heart of a flavourist’s role, creativity is also essential. Kim again: “If you gave 10 flavourists 20 chemicals and told us to go and create a grape flavour, I can guarantee you that every single creation would taste different. It’s often about preference, so for example I really love green notes, but other flavourists may prefer more floral notes. And you might mix up sweet and savoury elements, so, for example, add clove oil to a banana flavour, because it brings out a nice warm roundness. Within our community there are conservative and adventurous flavourists. I’d say I’m somewhere in between.”
No two days the same
Kim is part of the Portfolio team, which supports the entire business. Kim herself mostly works on fruits and sweet browns, but also looks at savoury areas, including vegetables, herbs and spices: “At any given time I usually have over a dozen active projects, and throughout a year will work on hundreds. These can be quite quick – often within a day or two – or sometimes projects take weeks or even months to realise.”
What recent project of note would Kim highlight? “We’re just finishing up on a peach collection, working jointly with Marketing, Sensory and Applications to come up with a wide variety of peach flavours with a story behind them. I also have had the privilege of participating in our TasteTrek® Citrus programme, and this is fascinating, because we go into the field with customers and explore and experience new flavours together. Tasting new fruits, fresh off the tree, with a customer really inspires creative and commercial partnerships.”
A flavourist is always at work when food and drink are near at hand, and Kim jokes about how her professional life often spills over into her personal life. “I was on vacation with my husband recently, and I insisted on visiting a guava orchard and a coffee plantation. My husband laughed, but did politely remind me we were on holiday and to ‘'turn it off’.”
Kim’s profession is fascinating, giving her the opportunity to meet the widest variety of creative customer briefs, and also to push the boundaries back, forever adding to Givaudan’s vast palette of flavours. But her greatest satisfaction lies in meeting the requirements of customers and pleasing consumers, as she explains here: “For me, the biggest reward of my job is in working with customers – something I have always loved. I try to listen and understand their needs, and then dedicate myself to a solution.
“When you capture something and surprise and delight them in the process, that’s a great feeling. I love what I do, and I’m excited to come to work every day.”
“There are different customers, different projects, different flavours, and different challenges: I remain totally passionate about my role as a flavourist at Givaudan.”