Megan is the lead creator of new flavours for Whittaker's chocolate.
What do you do on an average work day?
The great thing about working at Whittaker’s is that every day brings something different. I start my day with emails and then head to the development lab where I catch up with my team and discuss the projects we are currently working on.
I will then catch up with the Production team, especially if we have a new product coming through the factory as it’s my job to communicate the right information to all departments.
I always do my tasting and modification work at 11am before I get my morning coffee so that my taste buds haven’t been affected. I start to feel a bit peckish at this time too which makes me appreciate tasting Whittaker’s world-class chocolate even more. When tasting a lot of chocolate as I do, you become very good at recognising the finer flavours. After ten years in the job, I am still happy to eat Whittaker’s chocolate every day!
What did you study at school? And after high school?
I enjoyed all the science and mathematics subjects in high school, especially biology because I had a great biology teacher who filled me with confidence. I remember wanting to learn about dissection and the various organs in a mammal, so I took a dead lamb into the school from my farm and my biology teacher dissected it while we watched.
After school, I went to Massey University and did a BSc majoring in Zoology/Ecology, and after that I was off to Otago University to study a GradDip in Microbiology.
Back then, I think I was still confused about what part of science I enjoyed. I didn’t know a food technology degree existed until I had already started studying at Massey. By this stage, I was enjoying my general science degree so chose not to transfer. It was only after university that I realised I wanted to work in the food industry.
So after five years in the UK, I decided to go back to University, achieving my MSc in International Nutrition and Food Processing from Oxford Brookes.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yes definitely, all three of them.
Having a general understanding of chemistry is helpful when considering how various ingredients will interact with each other. I use my knowledge of microbiology when working within the quality and food safety standards of our factory and designing new products to fit, and I use my food processing knowledge when developing new products and producing them in the factory.
During factory trials, having a good understanding of mathematics, physics, and engineering is helpful. I am lucky to work with a very talented team of engineers and other food scientists who I enjoy brainstorming and problem-solving with. I am always learning something new with each new product and my colleagues bring their knowledge and expertise to each project.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Do your research, take advantage of careers advisors available and take part in work experience days. There‘s so much information available now, allowing you to make more informed decisions.
If you find you have a passion for a subject and enjoy doing it, then you will do well – so make sure that’s a top priority when deciding.
Don’t give yourself a hard time if you’re not sure what you enjoy yet, and use high school to investigate what you like and what you don’t like – as working out what you don’t like can actually be very helpful.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
I was selected to represent a New Zealand Contingent of Food Industry professionals to attend a two-week food processing/bio economy/Innovation tour of Europe with FRIENZ (Facilitating research & innovation cooperation between Europe and New Zealand) in 2013, then again in 2015. I was also the winner of the 2013 MPI award for Excellence in Innovation from the NZIFST (New Zealand institute of Food Science and Technology).
Another highlight for me was attending a residence course in Confectionery Technology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2017. On this course, I learnt from other specialists in confectionary technology, as well as being fortunate enough to experience an American University.
I work alongside a great Marketing team and I have been lucky to be part of some of the fantastic things they have achieved over the years, NZ Marketing awards, Most Trusted Brand awards, and the various campaigns, launch events and public relation opportunities.
Being part of a family owned company, I get to work with a great family who have owned the company for over 120 years, and a team who is passionate about making world class chocolate – and, of course, getting to eat delicious Whittaker’s Chocolate every day.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
STEM subjects are critical for the innovation and manufacturing industry. The increasing world population will continue to put pressure on food production and New Zealand has the potential to play an important role in this.
New Zealand has a competitive advantage in the global market space, added value products are a space we can play in, and the ‘Manufactured in NZ’ title is a desirable attribute in the overseas markets.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
The more diverse a workforce, the better for innovation – this is a well-known fact.
It is the responsibility of my generation to encourage young women to consider all careers, and to let go of the stereotypes that men and women are better at certain roles – it is the individual, not the gender.
If we support young women with good mentorship, good advice, and most importantly promote confidence, we will see more women working in this area.
Megan is New Product Development Manager at J H Whittaker and Sons, where she creates new flavours for Whittaker's chocolate.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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