As part of FoodProductionDaily’s ongoing series of 60-second interviews with the movers and shakers of the food and beverage industry, we caught up with Chris Holland, managing director, Holmach, to dispel the myths of thermal processing around 'canned mush' and the rise of microwaveable doypacks.
What do you do?
I am a thermal processing specialist, concentrating on bringing microbial safety to food products whilst preserving the organoleptic properties of the food and reducing waste by extending shelf-life.
Tell us about your current role?
As managing director, my first responsibility is to give direction to our organisation. We have grown quickly over the last 3 years and that has presented huge challenges when it comes to servicing our customer base.
Most of our internal meetings take place between 9am-10am unless something urgent has come up. I take an active part in the sales role and deal on a daily basis with our client base which ranges from large multi-nationals to start-ups and SMEs looking to get into extended shelf- life products.
How did you get into the industry? What’s your background?
After graduating in marketing, in the heyday of the late 80s, I wanted to work on the creative side of food advertising for one of the big ad agencies. Without an MBA, it was going to be tough, so having signed up for one, I needed two years of experience before they would let me on the course.
My father had a food machinery company and I offered to do his marketing for a pittance whilst I got the necessary experience. I joined and never left, going out on my own in 2000.
Whilst not a scientist by vocation, I found the optimisation of thermal processing both challenging and immensely enjoyable, and the science I picked up along the way.
What do you like most about your job?
Having done the job for nearly 30 years, the variety of the challenges is very motivating. It is really satisfying to see products on the shelf, when you have played a major part in their development and helped to dispel myths around “canned mush”, which is what many people feel thermal processing of foods creates.
Holmach is a close knit specialist and having a team that is on board with you, is a major part of what makes the job great. There is little that we haven’t learnt along the way when it comes to making great food products transit into longer shelf life.
What's the hardest thing about your job?
When the digital age and the internet arrived, everyone believed it would make life easier, and from an information and knowledge transfer point of view, this is clearly the case. But there is an ever increasing expectation of instant response and instant availability which is a challenge to manage.
We pull out all the stops to meet expectations but it is not easy.
Is there such a thing as a typical day for you? If so, what does it look like?
From one day to the next you never know where you’ll be or what challenge you will be set. We deal with companies from around Europe mainly so hopping on and off planes is one thing that is almost certain to feature. So if I am out of the office then it will depend upon the type of client we are dealing with and where we go to research the technology.
In the office I tend to get in for around 8:15am, review what I need to do from a client perspective and then catch up with the team either over a cup of tea or by phone or Skype. The phones usually start ringing from around 8:45am and as we carry out service, training and spare parts supply as well as sales from our Stamford base, we are usually very busy.
I like to see the results of any marketing activity we are doing, we have a big push on Twitter and on our blog at the moment where we cover not only our products, but other interesting articles relevant to what we do as consultants. We post some of the latest recalls based on the thermal processing market on the site as well.
What advice would you give people interested in a job in your field?
The most important thing is to have an enquiring mind and a desire to do things better. The focus for a business such as Holmach is to try to bring the latest technology to the market to allow food manufacturers to better meet the consumer’s food ambitions. I play an active role in food and science research organisations such as Campden BRI, the Institute of Food Technology and other forums so an interest in science is useful.
The food industry is a colourful, vibrant and fast moving business, there is little to match it as a career.
Has working in the food industry made you watch your diet more carefully?
Absolutely, but without much success. The most fascinating aspect though is watching the food industry adapt to the whims of food regulatory authorities and politicians especially as they can’t seem to make up their minds.
What do you see as the next top trend in five years’ time?
In our business the focus is about energy savings and waste reduction. Many retailers won’t admit the level of food waste they have on short shelf life chilled products, despite being signed up to reduction initiatives such as WRAPS. Gentle pasteurisation, without necessarily extra cooking, can simply extend shelf life, without compromising quality to allow an extra 10-15 days of life. This means that not only is the distribution and sales process optimised but the consumer has more time to eat the product when it gets home.
What’s your favourite product and why?
Microwaveable rice in a doypack – we had a hand in the development of all the well-known brands and at the time, I could not believe that people would take to the product as a single serve, when they could have a box of dry rice with 10 or 20 servings as an alternative for a similar price.
It goes to prove that convenience is king and there are some great tasting and authentic products available.
Which country do you see as the next big emerging market? Why?
South America as a continent seems to be the most likely to have the combination of a rapidly growing market, access to funding and a proximity to export markets that are interested in buying. Brazil is growing rapidly and is investing heavily. Their culture is similar to Europe for obvious reasons - that makes doing business there much more straight forward than the Far East.