FoodGrads Podcast Ep 21: Why directors need to see the big picture with Danielle Szostak the Director of Product Development at Give and Go Prepared Foods
Welcome to episode 21 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 Danielle Szostak, the Director of Product Development at Give and Go Prepared Foods. Give & Go Foods is a Canadian manufacturer of premium frozen, thaw and sell baked goods. They produce a wide range of dessert and sweet baked goods that are sold to leading retailers and food service operators across the world.
In this episode Danielle had a lot of valuable advice to share which she has picked up in both her 20+ years in marketing and product development roles across the food industry but particularly the bakery. She shared the nitty gritty of what exactly a director of research and development does such as what she looks for in new hires for her teams and what she finds exciting and interesting in her job, including the skills she needs for it.
If you are interested in a career in the baking industry then this is a must listen episode because Danielle drops some good advice on what you can do to stand out among applicants
So let’s jump into it. Onto the show!
[00:20] Can you tell me more about your role and what you do as the Director of R&D and Give and Go Foods?
- Danielle started with a BSc in Food Science at the University of Guelph and she began her career in more technical roles. At Pilsbury Green Giant she was working a lot with the the marketing department and that is where she got more interested in the market research side of the industry. After speaking with the Vice President she was recommend to get a MBA which she did. Afterwards she shifted to marketing roles for 20 years. Worked for Dunkin Heins and even led teams for Sobeys stores.
- Working at Sobeys she helped to design stores for the the bakery and then for a few years she worked for a commercial broker
- Danielle has been at Give & Go for nine years in a marketing capacity and after being approached by the VP she switched over to being the Director of Product Development. Overall, she feels that her career journey has gone full circle.
[4:34] Could you provide more background as to the benefits of an MBA and what someone could do with it?
- It is recommended you work first before the MBA because it gives you first hand experience as to how business’s work.
- Danielle found that her MBA helped build her leadership skills. Studying business helps you look look at the big picture and strategy. There is a lot of strategy in any job how to are going to approach something. An MBA helps you to see how everything fits together.
[7:33] What are some of the strategy’s that you use to see the bigger picture of things?
- It depends on what people want to do. It is good to have people who want to specialize and have people are super experts of things. Ingredient companies tend to have people who are specialist and other companies come to them for advice.
- The MBA route is better for people who want to be in leadership positions
- Give & Go is unique in their approach to product development their team has a really great mix of backgrounds and experience levels. It is the combination get the products that they sell.
[10:20] Can you briefly talk about Give and Go and the product lines that you have?
- Give & Go are not a well known in terms of name but people are very familiar with the products.
- Give & Go Brands
- They are in product categories like brownies, cupcakes, scones, macaroon and there is a huge range. If you go into any large supermarket you will see their products but their name might be right on it.
- Sarah on the podcast
[13:11] What types of tasks do you do on a daily, weekly basis?
- Danielle has a very diverse job that changes every day. Danielle spends a lot of time in meetings where some are job related where others are troubleshooting. A very diverse job
[14:14] What are the fun/most interesting days for you?
- Danielle love the most challenging days where she collaborates and problem solves something.
- For example, with the 2018 California new legislation where you have to state if your product contains this chemical.
- Give & Go had to figure out how to deal with this and they did this my forming a team and discussing how they would deal with it. Danielle loved getting into the science of things
- New regulation coming up in the US where you have to declare Bioengineered DNA in your product
[17:40] Which skills do you believe are essential for success in a role like yours?
- Danielle’s role largely depend on people and thought leadership. For example, having the right people in the right roles to get everything completed.
- Communicate well and solve problems
[18:50] How do you find the right people for the right roles?
- There are obvious things like the right background and technical training. Give & Go will hire right out of school and then they will get on the job training. However, they will hire senior level people
- People should figure out what their passion and show it
- Danielle looks for people who are flexible, adaptable and creative. They are okay if their day fully changes
[21:50] For students interested in the bakery industry what should they be doing to stand out?
- Get experience wherever you can if you can get an internship do it. Make sure to talk to people because people are happy to talk about their careers
- Even doing your passion at home. Baking at home can help you with techniques. However, there are differences in large industrial mixture and what you do at home
[25:44] What happens if there is a disagreement between marketing and R&D? How do these teams work together?
- These teams work very collaboratively together. So it starts with the product manager briefing the product developers about what can and what can not. If the teams can not resolve they would escalate it to a higher level.
- Typically, this could happen because marketing doesn’t understand how the technical side of food works. Most of the time it is worked out between the teams working together. Sometimes experts can be brought in if required
- Give & Go works extensively with consultants like ingredient companies
[20:31] What type of things do you look for when seeing if a customer will purchase something?
- Marketing actually works on this task. They will look all over the world and get help from ingredient companies. They will listen to customers, go into super markets and travel.
- If they do something that is too w eird it usually doesn’t go well. People want to relate to what you are releasing
- Timing is also very key to things. A good example is oatmeal. In the past Danielle knew a customer that tried to release in-store oatmeal but didn’t go well. However, Give & Go went on to release it 2 years ago and it has gone quite well.
[33:10] Danielle and I talking about overnight oats
Make sure you heat them up before you consume them! It’s a kill step
[35:46] What is your favourite part working in the food industry?
- Number one is that everyone eats. It gives people nutrition and pleasure.
- Give & Go tries to make better for you treats
[37:40] Where can people find you?
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