Product development technologist at Springbrook Foods, Jessica Chong

Having an updated and professional-looking online presence really paid off for Jessica Chong, who landed her job as senior product development technologist at Springbrook Foods through a connection made on LinkedIn. She says her positive attitude, a love of learning and growth, and saying yes to things that challenge her have helped her get to where she is today.

 HS: What was your journey into your current role? What did you study and what helped you get this position?

JC: I studied Food Technology, majoring in Product Development Technology at Massey University. When I finished uni I started a job as a product development technologist. The company manufactured a range of products, and while I was there, I worked on our fruit preparations, ripples, savoury sauces, and pasta sauces. All were quite similar products with very varied applications, and over my two and a half years there I picked up a lot of technical skills.

I also became part of the Auckland NZIFST committee in 2019, and picked up the role of vice-chair of the Auckland branch of NZIFST mid-2020.

I was approached by my current boss on LinkedIn (it really pays to have an updated and professional-looking profile). I’m now a senior product development technologist at Springbrook Foods, and I’m loving it. The things that have helped me the most are being positive, having a love for learning and growth, and saying yes to more things. Also, not being afraid to ask someone to sit down for a coffee and have a chat with me.

How did you know that this was the right industry for you?

I felt the industry was right for me when I started doing internships at uni and enjoyed the problem-solving and creative aspects, but I knew it was right for me during the last couple of years in the committee, and in starting my role at Springbrook. The people I am surrounded with are knowledgeable, committed, and supportive, and this has fostered my drive and passion to make the food industry better for all of us.

What aspect of your job are you most passionate about?

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata – it is the people. I’m very passionate about food, learning, and problem solving, but I’m most passionate about the people. The people that I work with in the industry facilitate everything else that I love.

I’ve found over the years that the things I love the most about my job are mentoring and nurturing passion for food in others, and learning and growing with them. Everyone has something to teach someone else, and everyone can learn something from someone else, and I get a huge kick out of it.

What’s the most pressing issue facing the industry right now and how do you see if affecting the future of food and beverage?

The most pressing issues I see facing the industry right now are environmental responsibility and sustainability, and diversity specifically in New Zealand. There is a lot of waste within the industry, both food and packaging, and it is a huge contributor to our negative environmental impact on the world. I think we as an industry need to reflect with a much harsher lens on what we do with our food waste, how we can reduce it, and whether we can contribute that waste towards something else – like food donations etc. With packaging we are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to this. Currently, we have to choose between a long shelf life, and more sustainable packaging that is biodegradable or recyclable in New Zealand with sometimes a much shorter shelf life. All this while balancing consumer demand for fresh, natural food with no preservatives but also lasts a long time.

On our issue of diversity, I think we need to invest much more into fostering engagement in the food industry from everyone, especially our Māori and Pasifika peoples. It’s important for us to have contributions from everyone in Aotearoa, it helps keep our ideas fresh and makes us better able to meet the needs of the consumers we make products for.

They’re both massive challenges, and I don’t know what the solution(s) will be. What I do know is that we need a lot more innovation and investment from leaders in changing the industry. We need to think forwards and make ambitious goals for our future.

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