Photo credit: Kevin Bills Media

A wise person once said the path to success isn’t always a straight line – and this was certainly true for Soochi’s food technologist Margie Hunt. Originally thinking she was headed for a career in forensics, a paper at university set her on a new route, and resulted in her studying towards two degrees concurrently. The hard work has paid off though and she’s excited to see what her future as a food technologist holds.

HotSource: How did you get into Food Technology and what did you study?

Margie Hunt: For my entry into food technology – it was actually in a round-about way and completely unexpected. It was never my intention to study Food Tech – instead, as the analytical person that I am, I thought forensics/lab work would be right up my alley, and left school to study Psychology and Criminology at Auckland University. As a classic first-year student, I elected to do some science courses too. From memory, it was a biochem paper that had a module that drilled down into genetics flipping many of my beliefs on their head, and enough to set me on a new trajectory. From there, I took a Food Science course at Auckland Uni, loved it, (even read a textbook cover to cover). However, as it was a new degree at Auckland, I couldn’t do the degree as a conjoint with my Psych major. So off to Massey Albany I went and continued both degrees concurrently at the two different universities (one was part-time). Even so, it was hard work.

What do you enjoy about being part of this industry?

This is a great question – and it’s a multi-faceted answer.

First of all, we have such a great and supportive industry of dedicated and incredibly lovely people who are willing to help each other out. I really do mean this, and that’s something no one tells you when you’re on the outside or thinking about what career path to go down. Product development essentially is about problem-solving and being very open-minded. Many heads together, results in new innovative trials, PD, and trying out-of-the-box solutions. Plus you never know when you’ll meet another food technologist, or someone who knows a food tech.

Also, there are so many different areas to our industry – most people think of R&D when it comes to food tech, but our industry is so much richer and more diverse than this – and ultimately, anything and everything regarding the intersection of food, science, engineering or business is where we can land up. When I came to start food tech, I naturally was excited by the research potential. Throughout my very short time within the industry, I have worked in R&D, quality assurance, as a lab technician, and now have a very diverse role in our start-up company, Soochi, overseeing anything relating to food safety, quality, and formulation development. My previous roles have helped incredibly to shape where I am at today. As anyone reading this from the industry knows, this is only a small example of the types of roles in the industry.

Were there any hurdles in your career that you had to overcome? What were they and how did you do it?

Yes, absolutely. I think everyone has hurdles, don’t they? Although, I can’t think of any major life changes that kept me on my toes, but a lot of little things. For example, I really struggled with calculus, so I took some time off my degrees to work within the food industry to gain some experience, pay the bills and come back more refreshed. At one point I was balancing working on our family farm milking cows, working as a food technologist, and studying – sometimes all three at the same time which was quite the struggle. And I still milk the cows on weekends.

Also, I know mistakes aren’t hurdles but definitely had to work through a few – I remember in one of my first roles, I made the common mistake of changing a formulation as an improvement but miscalculated one of the ingredients. Big time. These hurdles are what make us a little better at our jobs because we don’t make the same mistakes twice (you’d hope anyway), but at the time are incredibly deflating. They have definitely shaped where I am, and the person I’ve become.

Do you have any advice for young people starting out in this industry/ is there anything you wish you’d known before being part of the Soochi team?

University students – Sometimes it can be very competitive, but it shouldn’t be. Your fellow students are the biggest support for those long nights working on assignments, they’ll be your rock, and most of all, they know what you are going through as Food Tech is a hard degree. They are the best people to have close over those 3-4 years, and potentially your life (within and out of the industry) Some of my closest friends I met at uni and are doing incredible things within the food industry.

New grads – Soak up all the experience you can. Seriously. I know it gets hammered in, and everyone says this.  Get involved in NZIFST or other food/science/tech organisations to meet people in all different areas of the industry, to learn from those who are more experienced, and to network. You’ll never know when you need a second opinion about packaging, labelling, or a new product’s shelf life.

As for Soochi – No one can really prepare you for the ups and downs of starting a business. All the details you find out along the way, lead time disruptions, the learning curves, the print deadlines, the product performance and shelf life or distribution challenges. But if any degree helps – food tech at Massey gave me a good nudge of confidence (gosh sounds like a promo here) but seriously, the final year was quite entrepreneurial focused and prepared us well for venturing out on our own. Perhaps if I had more experience, some of these learnings would be common knowledge for us, but I wouldn’t change anything.

Soochi is centred upon a team of three co-founders, and the number of people that have helped Soochi to get to where it is today is an absolute credit to the industry. It is like a big family. I don’t get it right all the time, and some things just do not work out, but the amount of advice/help/support I have received from my peers is incredible. My advice here is never be afraid to ask for help. We don’t have all the answers, nor should we, but you know that someone will always have the answer for something. And one day, I’ll be experienced enough to help others who are coming through or at least point them to someone who can help.

For more info about Soochi, head to soochidrinks.com