FoodGrads Podcast Ep 15: The power of travel to transform your career with Ridhima Phukan, Associate Product Developer at Danone North America
Welcome to episode 15 of the FoodGrads Podcast. The podcast where we explore careers in the food, beverage and hospitality industries. I’m your host Veronica Hislop, a molecular science graduate student and career partner with FoodGrads.
On this week’s podcast I interviewed Ridhima Phukan a product developer from Danone North America. Danone North America has many brands you might be familiar with such as Activia, Vega, SToK and International Delight. Another cool fact is that they are the worlds largest B-corp with over 45% of Danone’s global sales covered by the B-corp certification. Which is really cool and one of the reasons Ridhima chose to work there.
In this episode Ridhima talked about her role as a product developer in the ready to drink category specifically in coffee and coffee creamers. Ridhima shares her experiences on how she really made her time at university a unique one by traveling the world on her co-ops. These co-ops led her to learn how to communicate with people of all different backgrounds. What is important is that you treat people with kindness because at the end of the day we are all people.
[1:51] Can you tell me more about Danone and the products that they create?
- Danone North America
- WhiteWave Foods Aquisition
- Danone is big in the vegan milk product market with products like Silk
- International Delight
[5:24] What is your role and what do you do at Danone?
- Associate Product Developer for the Ready to Drink (RTD) category
- Particularly, SToK Coffee and International Delight
- A lot of the job includes tasks like flavour work, cost reduction
- Fruity Pebbles International Delight Coffee Creamer
[10:15] How has it been learning about coffee and has there been anything really interesting to you?
- Ridhima was exposed to a lot of coffee during her undergrad through her various jobs. She worked at La Colombe in the bakery section and talked to the owners on a regular basis.
- Speciality Coffee Association
- She is always so excited to learn from experts and know what they are doing
- Celestial Seasonings Tea
[12:00] Talking about traveling and Ridhima transferring what she learned into her work
- There were a lot people who helped to support her
[13:42] When you say your advisor? Did you mean academic advisor?
- The director of the program (former) was supportive of helping Ridhima
- Internship 1- Campbell’s Soup Company
- Internship 2- InFarm in Germany
[18:11] Talking about how important it is to talk the same language as others
[20:32] What have you learned about being able to communicate with people even if you are not the expert
- Recognizing the person who you are talking to are people even if they are world world-renowned
- Every conversation doesn’t need to be a transaction. Don’t treat them as a product but just a person
- Be really present when you are with a person
- People only want to help you if you are kind.
[25:42] Talking about how things have been different during COVID
- Ridhima has been on a rotating schedule in and out of the office
- Being with co-workers feels nice and so normal
- Food Science is a thing where you can do a lot remotely but not everything
[28:49] What do you like about your job?
- Working at a company that practices what preach
- They are a benefit corporation which means they value pay equality, environmental stewardship and good working conditions for it’s workers
- Danone North America continues to expand on it’s regenerative agriculture practices, looks to preserve and protect water systems and further establish sustainable packaging practices
- The people who work at Danone have similar values and importance to them
- Danone is the largest B-corp in the world
[33:54] Why did you decide to go into Culinary Science and how did it lead you to now?
- In high-school Ridhima was at a friend’s house when her friend’s mom told her that she should try food science
- Her friend’s mother was a food scientist and her father was a flavourist and hearing them talk about their jobs blew her mind
- She asked where she went and it was Drexel University Culinary Arts. This suited Ridhima because she wanted to go to a city school
- Being in food science you can be as broad or specific that you want
- The food industry is full of a lot of twists and turns which allow a lot of people to get into it
[40:30] What advice would you give students who do not know what they want to do yet?
- Reaching out to people on LinkedIn. Never ever just add as a connection. Add a personal touch with a note
- Schedule one-on-one conversations just for an informational informational
- People love to talk about themselves. People who are successful tend to like to pay it forward and help others
- Don’t be transactional.
- Be kind because people aren’t just there to give you a job
[45:16] Talking about how important how people are people. Be kind and intentional with your approaches
- Ridhima talks about she got her position at the German Food Start-Up
[47:40] Where can people find you?