As a keen foodie, it was clear that Alcoli Cao would end up working with food somehow. After studying at Massey University and completing a Master’s in Food Technology majoring in dairy science, Cao secured his first graduate job as a technical sales assistant at Caldic New Zealand and is now enjoying working with clients to help get their products to market.

HS: What is your current job and what was your journey to get here?

AC: My current role is as a technical sales assistant at Caldic New Zealand, and it is a great start for my professional career. It had ups and downs, but it was an amazing journey to get here.

Before university, I took a campus tour at Massey University in Albany. I visited the new product development (NPD), chemistry and microbiology labs and had a chance to chat with the food technology students about their experience. Being a foodie, I was always looking to develop something new and innovative. So, I went on a food tech journey – I started my food technology studies at Massey University.

After four years of studies, I went on to study a Master of Food Technology with a major in dairy science.

I started looking for a job after my thesis submission and it was not good timing as we were just out of lockdown. One of my supervisors referred me to this job and I applied for the role. When I started the job, I was told that my academic background made the team pick me.

What’s your favourite part about your job?

One of the best parts is the resources and accessibility to the latest market insights, frontline news, innovative ingredients, and in-trend products in the food industry. Working for a global corporation has good opportunities to connect with global colleagues and suppliers, acquiring technical training and knowledge about their products and services. I’ve also had opportunities to travel and meet existing and new clients and to attend business events and conferences, which helps make more connections. Working with clients on their projects and providing technical advice and solutions is always my favourite part. It is always great to see a client’s new recipe and product launch in the market.

How does your average day play out?

It is a bit different every day and does not have a fixed timeline. I usually start with answering enquiries and emails from the morning and work with the team on product sales and supply. Designing marketing brochures and campaign is a part of my job particularly when we have new products and services to promote. Also, working on projects with clients and provide technical information and arrange samples if needed. We often have training with suppliers, regular customer visits, project and strategic plan meetings. There are also reading materials on new ingredients for us to understand the technical side of the products. Sometimes my team and I travel for business events and conferences, making connections with new people and exploring new business opportunities. One of the reasons I really like my job is that I always have some exciting projects to work on and new things to learn in different aspects of the business.

What are you most excited about seeing happening in your field in the future?

It is exciting to see new food trends and interesting concepts every year. Consumers are always after innovative solutions that meet their expectations. In recent years, there is a significant growth in flexitarianism and vegetarianism, ‘natural’ and ‘green’ are hot topics. Natural and sustainable foods have gained increased attention, and this drives a growing number of food manufacturers to revise their current products and how the products are being produced. Many of them began switching to a more sustainable business mode and swapping with natural and clean label ingredients. Plant-based products also have increasing attention and its market has been growing significantly in recent years. There is also a growing number of ingredient manufacturers that have been focussing on new natural food ingredients that are produced from plants, yeasts and other sustainable sources.

What is something significant you’ve learnt on the job that you wish someone had told you at the start?

Developing new business opportunities is one of the important parts of my job and it was not an easy task when I first started. I thought technical sales was all about selling products but offering technical solutions is what most customers are after. I also found that good time management is key to improving productivity and it is important to make plans. This helps to balance workloads in different tasks and deliver positive results within a timeframe.

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