We recently caught up with Caroline O’Reilly, who when isn’t out training for her first marathon is Senior Culinary & Innovation Technologist, at The Culinary Food Group.
We wanted to find out how Caroline got into the food industry, what her role involves and what food trends are taking place as we head towards 2019.
Caroline, please tell us a bit about yourself & how you started working in your current role…..
Sure, well currently I work a Senior Culinary & Innovation Technologist with the The Culinary Food Group in the Simply division where we produce natural stock products for our customers. I’m based here in Nass but originally from Tipperary. I’ve always loved food and trained as a chef when I was younger. I’ve worked in a number of hotels and restaurants mainly in Cork and Tipperary. I loved working as a chef but after about five years in working in busy kitchens I really felt like a change. A change it was as I actually spent 4 years working in quality control for a cosmetic manufacturer!
After the cosmetics manufacturer I spent some time with a beverage manufacturer working in the sensory laboratory which was very enjoyable, and I learned a lot.
From here I joined the Culinary Food Group in 2014 and have been loving the dynamics of working in New Product Development (NPD) ever since. It’s a very challenging role and with different things happening all the time but we’ve a great team and we all work well together.
What made you want to get into the food manufacturing industry?
I’ve always loved cooking and from a young age I enjoyed helping out with the dinner at home. My mother used to work shift work and, in the evenings, when she was at work I loved experimenting and trying out new things for the family dinner.
In school my two favourite subjects were home economics and science so training as a chef was a no brainer for me. I did however find the food service environment tough going and the hours very anti-social so took a break from it for a while.
While working in a quality control role in cosmetic manufacturing I started to miss working with food and so decided to retrain to work in a food manufacturing environment. I completed a Degree in Food Science and Health which gave me the skills I needed to make the switch from food service to production.
I love working in NPD. it’s still really fast paced and exciting but allows a much better work life balance than the restaurant business.
What does your role involve?
Simply make concentred natural stocks for a range of applications. Essentially, I manage the critical paths for all new product launches. I take the recipes from the development kitchen and work closely with the production and quality teams to scale them up through the factory. The finished product must be consistent with the smaller scale samples that have been signed off by the customer during development.
I also work closely with procurement to approve any new ingredients in the recipes ensuring they are suitable for our processing parameters and our customers’ requirements. We always work with suppliers that we know and trust to ensure we get the finest possible ingredients for our clients.
I spend a lot of time collaborating with the team here at Simply and train employees to take part in daily organoleptic quality panels on our products. This helps us to ensure the consistently and quality of the product we are producing.
Our customers are at the centre of everything we do, and I work closely with them to make sure their specifications are correct on all new product lines.
What challenges do you face in your job?
Meeting price points is always a challenge in the food industry and we always have to keep a close eye on production costs.
Events such as Brexit are outside of our control but are having a big impact on exports to the UK. It creates uncertainty which is never good and makes it harder to plan and manage.
Another big challenge is from a product development point of view. Our kitchen development is carried out in a relatively small scale in comparison to our factory production batches. So, it is quite a challenge to scale up from a 50KG batch in the kitchen to a 2T in the factory right first time, but we’ve become pretty good at it!!
Have you seen any interesting food manufacturing trends?
Health has been a real focus over the last number of years and will continue to be. Sugar is the hot topic at the moment with the introduction of the sugar tax and we have developed some fabulous stock solutions with this in mind. Previous to sugar was salt so perhaps fat levels will be next on the agenda.
From a customer’s perspective I’ve noticed that there’s a tendency to be a lot more focused on provenance and sustainability. Customers want to know they are eating good quality food from a sustainable source – something we work carefully to deliver.
I think food packaging is and interesting one and also going to come under the spot light more and more as consumers become more aware of the need to recycle.
Generally speaking, our customers want fantastic culinary products with clean labels and at an affordable price!
When you’re not creating masterpieces here at work what do you like to get up to in your spare time?
I love food so at the weekends I enjoy trying out new restaurants and catching up with friends. It’s always good to see what new dishes are on the menu!
I also like exercising and keeping fit. I regularly go to the gym and enjoy swimming. I’m also a member of the local running club so Saturday mornings are usually spent with the club on our weekly long run. I am signed up for my first marathon in October, so I’m scared and excited at the same time – wish me luck!!!