Olivia Duffin, Mars Product Development, Australia.
When I went to university, my goal was to combine my love of science, food and creativity. Never did I think within a few months of starting an internship, my products would be retailed at a major supermarket chain, or that I’d have the opportunity to jump straight into a title like Food Development Technologist for a company like Mars.
Applying for the internship
As part of my faculty within Food Science and Human Nutrition at Newcastle University in New South Wales, we were required to seek internship opportunities with companies we were interested in. Incredibly, my university happened to be on the same street as Mars – a lucky coincidence for me finding a company offering amazing opportunities directly related to my course.
After the initial interview stage, I attended a group interview in Sydney. We had to sit in a group and complete a case study together – a good reflection of what it’s really like working in Mars within close-knit teams – and give feedback on each other afterwards. Being candid about other interviewees who you’d just met was tricky, but ultimately a good analysis of how we all, as individuals, approached collaboration, responsibility and teamwork.
My products on the shelves
My internship started off in product development within R&D (Research and Development) at Mars Food, where I was developing sauces within food service products. One of my first tasks was brought to us by the marketing team, who briefed us on some consumer insights relating to the popularity of schnitzel dishes in Australia. I was asked to develop four schnitzel breadcrumb flavor ranges and create recipes for them, which was something I absolutely loved doing.
I started playing around in the lab with smoked paprika, which hadn’t been used before. It took some different blends, different quantities of herbs and developing a number of recipes from scratch, but eventually it was signed off. You can now find four of the products I designed in Woolworths (a supermarket here in Australia) – lemon pepper, smoked paprika, classic schnitzel, and garlic and herb. That was the highlight of my internship.
Getting onto the graduate scheme
After interning for 100 hours in 2015, I found myself coming back every now and again and helping out the team where I’d made some great friends and felt I had made some roots, so I decided to apply for the Graduate scheme. One day, the grad manager took me to one side and told me I’d been accepted onto the grad course – everyone burst in and gave me a hug. It was wonderful heading back to university for my final semester knowing I’d secured the grad course for January 2017.
My first rotation took me back to product development, where I was Product Development Technologist, in charge of herbs and spices as well as finishing sauces. I became something of a ‘barbeque sauce queen’ – I’ve spent a lot of time understanding consumer needs and incorporating new American flavors into the styles of sauces. It’s a way to impact our consumers positively even in a small way.
What I’ve learned so far
I’m really pleased my products actually retailed so early on in my Mars career – taking my family to Woolworths and getting messages on Facebook telling me how much they loved the products was really rewarding.
One thing I’ve understood the most is how much Mars cares about making the career right for you. I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with my mentor, who was hand-picked for me according to my personality. He’s helped me seek out development and training opportunities that would benefit my career path and me. At the same time, he, like the company, understands that peoples’ aspirations change, and that’s OK too. It’s all about finding your feet and taking your time to do so.
Right now, I’m really interested in developing my QA (Quality Assurance) knowledge, which effectively allows me to combine my passions for food, science and design. I’m hoping to get onto product and packaging design next, and I’m putting steps in place to get into the department as soon as I can.