What does a product developer in the wine and spirits sector do? With Esther Onguta, Food Development Specialist at Absolut Group/Pernod Ricard | FoodGrads Podcast Ep. 82

On this weeks episode of the FoodGrads Podcsat we are talking to Esther Onguta PhD about what a product developer does in the wine and spirits sector, sensory science and the valuable skills developed during postgraduate education.

Esther Onguta PhD is a Toronto native passionate about food and cooking, is an expert in food, fermentation, and sensory science. She earned a BSc in Food Science from the University of Guelph, specializing in Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, and later pursued a Certificate in Grape and Wine Technology and an MSc in Biotechnology at Brock University. Esther then moved to New Zealand for her PhD in Food Technology at Massey University, focusing on the sensory aspects of protein-based foods. In 2021, she returned to Canada to work in distilled spirits and recently joined the Absolut Group/Pernod Ricard in Windsor, Ontario, as a Product Development Specialist. Additionally, she has completed WSET Levels 2 and 3 in Wines and aspires to achieve the DipWSET.

This episode is an excerpt from the CareersNow! mentorship sessions. CareersNow! is Food and Beverage Ontario’s new workforce development initiative for Ontario’s food and beverage processing industry. This program was launched to connect job seekers with employers in Ontario’s food and beverage processing sector. The program delivers services like mentorship sessions, job fairs, and access to free courses to beef up your resume and training prior to entering the industry.


[0:00] Podcast Introduction
[1:58] Esther Self-Introduction
[5:51] The Role of a Product Development Specialist
[7:15] Working With Other Departments
[9:01] What Attracted Esther to This Role
[10:25] The Transferability of Ph.D. to Product Development
[13:03] How Esther Decided on a Ph.D. Supervisor
[15:07] Differences Between Ph.D. and the Workforce
[18:48] Tools Esther Uses to Manage Her Work
[20:24] Skills Esther is Currently Developing
[22:22] What is “Good” Sensory for a Consumer
[26:15] Other places Ph.D.’s work in the Company
[30:36] Lessons Esther has Learned Working
[33:01] Esther’s Experience as a TA
[34:26] Networking during Ph.D.
[40:56] The Impact of Technology and Innovation on Esther’s Role
[43:15] Advice for Aspiring Food Industry Professionals


Esther’s LinkedIn


Absolut Group/Pernod Ricard

University of Guelph

Esther Onguta Quotes

As a food scientist, why I went into food science to begin with, was I really liked […] food. I liked the aspect of my contribution to society. If we think bigger picture then [my contribution is working on and helping to] develop products out on market. I’m not famous, no one will recognize me, but it’s nice to know that like my small contribution to society or something that I’ve helped out with is there on the shelves.

Esther Onguta

So sensory and consumer science is [a] discipline of that is required in the food and beverage space but it’s understanding how our senses and how we perceive things.

Esther Onguta

A lot of people on [my] team that I work with have their master’s degree as well. So they’ve spent time a lot of time, focusing on research and developing those postgraduate skills. There’s a lot of people higher up [in the company] that as well have postgraduate education[s].

Esther Onguta

Networking would be the other one. I have friends that after their bachelor’s degree went on into industry and worked and they were actually the people that I contacted when I started to look for jobs. Because they had been in industry longer than I had. So if there was a job that I saw that was looking for a research scientist and requiring, X amount of education or whatever and they happened to work at that company or previously had worked at the company. I talked to them even if it had been a few years since I spoke to them.

Esther Onguta

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