FoodGrads Podcast Ep 6: Breaking into the confectionery industry with Elizabeth Hagerman, Food Scientist at The Warrell Corporation
On episode 6 of the FoodGrads Podcast, I interview Elizabeth Hagerman, a Food Scientist at the Warrell Corporation. The Warrell Corporation is one of the top contract candy- manufacturing companies in North America which focuses on chocolate panning, fire roasting, brittle, nut clusters and better-for-you snacks.
In this episode, Elizabeth and I talk about her “sweet” job at the Warrell Corporation and what it means to be a “middle-man” company. Elizabeth then goes on to talk about why she loves her job and the challenges she has faced through working on caramel related projects.
Elizabeth also discusses with me her current endeavour of working towards a master’s degree in global food law and how the idea came to be. I will say it is such a cool degree which is so applicable in today’s global food chain. We also talk about PMCA – the professional manufacturing confectioners association and how we were both part of the student outreach program. If you haven’t heard of PMCA than check them out it is they are amazing association doing so much for the industry.
Overall, Elizabeth is such a cool person. You can tell she is well suited for being a food scientist because of her can-do attitude. She is willing to take on new challenges because she knows it will allow her to grow as a person. You’ll really be able to tell that in this episode and think that her story is one that we could all learn from.
With that I hope you enjoy the show!
Elizabeth began her career at Warrell Creations in 2017 when she was brought on board by the research and development department as a food technologist. Within a few short months, they knew they had a new outlook on one of their beloved core processes. Exploring new and innovative food products and processes is one of Liz’s main passions. She earned her bachelor’s degree in food science and technology from Oregon State University and received a minor in chemistry along the way. Her experience in the food industry includes everything from food service to interning with Kroger to working as an R&D lab technician — all before finding Warrell Creations. Liz’s focus here at Warrell Creations involves improving and developing products for one of their exemplary core processes — caramel!
Can you tell me more about the Warrell Corporation and the products they produce?
- 50+ year old company as a contract manufacturing company which acts as a middle man to the industry
- Do every from idea to conception to commercialization and production they focus on confectionery based items like chocolate covered pretzels, sugar-based products. They use to do caramel and toffee
What is a middle man company?
- Usually the silent partner people don’t know about.
- They help with bigger companies who need to contract out products. They also will do private label for certain stores.
What is your role at Warrell and what does your day to day look like?
- Food technologist but that can cover everything from multiple meetings, to problem solving chocolate.
- Day to day changes by the hour
- Typically, she would be making new products and formulating them. As well, troubleshooting products to make them more efficient. Looking to make safety as a top priority.
What are some of things you love about your job?
- Coming at a product from a different perspective. Right now Elizabeth is focused on trying to perform sugar reduction in products. She enjoys doing those kind of things.
- Elizabeth is going for her master’s in global food law. This has allowed her to work with Warrell’s legal team and look at different contracts in order to understand what part of the recipe is considered the customers or Warrell’s. It is a good skill for a food technologist to know
Why did you decide to do a master’s in food law and how has that process been?
- Started as a joke when trying to figure out what her next step in her career. Elizabeth didn’t want to go back to school and do a strong science based degree. Some people might find this subject dry but Elizabeth enjoys arguing so it works for her
- The program is fully focused on food but it looks more so at beverages and raw products. More so understanding the food supply chain and how food is one of the easiest things to adulterate. People can repackage it without you even knowing it. There are private sectors looking in keeping the supply chain safe.
- SQF Food Adulteration
Was it always an online program or did that change during COVID?
- Michigan State University College of Law – Master’s Degree in Global Food Law
- Always an online program because it is focused on people who are already in the industry so they can do it after their day job
What has been some of your favourite projects you have worked on?
- Warrell uses to be in the caramel business like the ones you would see at fairs and such. That is when Elizabeth can into the scene. This included working on different toffee flavours.
- She also worked on a liquid caramel that goes into a ready to drink coffee. It was La Calome. Doing a liquid caramel was a first for Warrell.
- It was a lot of persuading, coming in early and making sure that things were done properly.
Was there anything you did that helped you to show what you were doing was right?
- Stuck to her guns and worked with the quality and production teams to keep reassuring that it is close to x product that they have been doing for 25 years.
- Once they did a trial and anything that could go wrong went wrong during the trial. Which goes to show how important plant trials are.
How have you been involved with the Professional Manufacturers Confectionery Association?
- PMCA Student Outreach Program
- Has attended 4 years as a student and 3 years as an industry professional
- 2019 Elizabeth got to speak about Product Development.
How was your experience talking at PMCA and did you grow as a person through it?
- Was asked a year in advance if she would write a paper about sugar crystallization and talk about it from an R&D perspective- how to combat crystallization.
- Allowed her to grow her as a person. Opened up her public speaking skills again.
- Would totally do the same experience again if asked. Would still be anxious ahead of time but would still do it
- We talk about mentors and how everyone should have one. Especially someone who helps you outside of work that can help you to assess areas to grow
What made you decide to get so heavily involved in a food science club despite already being active in a food science program?
- Oregon State University Food and Fermentation Club
- There is something about getting into a like-minded group and getting to talk science and talk about what kind of things make food. A way to practically see what they were doing in class on a 3-D level. How does the stuff we learn in class relate to the food we eat?
- Allowed them to gain lab experience without it being in class
- The club had access to pilot labs. They were able to produce Wart. They would do jam-making sessions and use the local farms products.
- Bread Professor
How was the transition going from undergraduate to full time career? Do you think there was anything that you did which helped contribute to your success?
- When you are in your senior year you think that you are going to have something lined up that is a great job after you graduate.
- Started as a R&D technician where she would run around and do tasks that the senior technicians would do. The mind set shift was totally different than school.
- The transition required her to have an open-mind. Specifically, doing your best and not specific expectations. Absorb everything that you can.
- Step back and listen to all the possibilities. Your answer is not always the right answer.
Have there been any challenges you have overcome?
- Imposter Syndrome- You feel that at any time people will call you out that you don’t know anything even though this is not necessarily true. Challenge yourself and go out of your comfort zone to show you know your stuff and prove it to yourself. Elizabeth did this by running a cross-functional team when the plant was trying to figure out how to make the plant more efficient.
- Elizabeth is the youngest person in the company. It is not good to let it get to your head. Making sure that you know what you know but asking questions if you really don’t know.
- Make sure you present yourself well. Understand how you show up in a room and own what you say. Elizabeths backs what she knows with knowledge
What happens in situations where you don’t know the answer? How do you present yourself?
- Don’t play off like you know something when you don’t.
- Be honest with yourself and those around you.
- Elizabeth will say this is what I know. x is what I don’t know. There is a chance that others will not know x and that is the time when you can come together to discuss and problem solve together.
- If you act like you know something this could risk issues with an individuals safety.
Why is the food industry a great place to work and why did you specifically choose confectionery’s?
- Being in a lab or a kitchen to develop new ideas that could be seen in the next generation. That is fascinating to think about.
- Elizabeth’s love for the confectionery industry stems from PMCA. Meeting all these incredible people who work for competing companies but after work they still hangout. There is a lot of comraderies.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career similar to yours?
- Be open-minded. No ones journey is going to look the same. If you are so focused on being like someone else than you are going to miss every opportunity around you.
- Find yourself an industry mentor that you can call and ask how do you deal with difficult people. Ask all your questions to someone your trust to help you grow as a person.
Do you have an food related podcasts, books or people you think that people should follow?
Where can people go and find you?
Author: Veronica Hislop– Veronica is a Master’s thesis student in the Molecular Science program at Ryerson University. She is also a career partner with FoodGrads and has work experience in the food processing industry working both in R&D and QA.
Currently, she is performing research on water-in-oil emulsions stabilized by fat crystals. When she is not following her scientific endeavors you can find her enjoying Japanese anime, manga and video games