In the latest edition of FoodNavigator-USA’s What do you do? series, we talked with head of the technical services, nutrition and regulatory departments at hummus manufacturing giant Sabra about the growing collaboration between human nutrition and food chemistry, making a mark on the fresh dip industry, and the wonders of warm hummus.
What do you do at Sabra?
I wear three hats at Sabra Dipping Co.: regulatory, nutrition and technical services. In many larger companies, there would be separate departments covering each of these roles independently. However, when you think about it, all of these roles are connected in how they impact the performance of the company. While I have responsibility over all three areas, I have resources that enable the effective coverage of all three areas under one department.
Regulatory: I am responsible for the compliance of our consumer-facing information, which includes consumer package labels and the label information that is presented on our external websites. I review for accuracy of the Nutrition Facts panel information and ingredient statements, as well as any statement of fact or claims on the labels.
Nutrition: I am responsible for the evolution of the nutrition story of the various dip products in our portfolio. Our dips are vegetable and dairy based; their compositional make-ups align very nicely with the push to healthier eating through better choices.
Technical services: In this area, I am involved in a variety of areas: work process definitions, formulation and specification management and R&D system support.
Tell us about your background and how you got into the scientific side of the food and beverage industry.
My background is in food science. I hold a M.S. from the University of Massachusetts and a B.S. from Virginia Tech. It was my love of chemistry in high school, and the early introduction of food nutrition labeling in the 1970s that lead me to food science.
I have held a variety of positions in the food industry, starting with food processing research and flavor applications that then lead me into the quality side of things. And from there I spent awhile with my first love: food chemistry. Now I am in a position where all of my experiences and newly found interest in human nutrition come together under one fantastic job.
Is there such thing as a typical day for you? If so, what does it look like?
The thing that I love about my work with Sabra is that there truly is no such thing as a typical day. There is such a variety of work to be done. Let’s talk about a typical week:
Working with the marketing teams to design a new label for new products; working with our operations team to implement a new product into the system; working with our product development team to establish the nutrition profile of a new product; and working with our consumer insights and corporate nutritionist teams on how best to tell our consumers how wonderful our products are.
And that is just a list of the really fun stuff.
What is the most exciting part about your job?
The most exciting part of my job is just the pure sense of discovery. That is what I love the most. Discovery on so many levels:
- discovery every day that what I do makes an impact in the growth of the fresh dip industry;
- discovery that I still have so much to learn;
- discovery that what I have to offer comes into play each and every day; and
- discovery on the face of new consumer trying our dips for the first time.
Has working in the packaged food industry changed the way you eat at home?
No, not really. From working in the industry, I have a much better understanding and appreciation of what it takes to produce and label processed food items. Fresh fruits and vegetables have always been a part of my diet, as well as a variety of processed foods. But in one major way, working for Sabra has changed the way I eat at home: I have a newly found love of hummus.
If you could have one "do-over" in your career, what would that be?
The journey I have been on in my career has been a very satisfying one. And I have been happy with where this journey has taken me. But if I had a chance to have a “do-over”, I think it would be that I would have brought my interests in human nutrition and food chemistry together earlier in my career.
Back in the day, these where competing college majors, and there wasn’t a lot of collaboration between them. Now it just seems too natural to pair these interests together. And I am enjoying this so much, that I would have like to have been involved earlier on.
What's your favorite way to eat hummus?
Oh there are so many ways. I love dipping with fresh veggies. Guess that is my favorite. But now I use it as a spread or in place of mayonnaise in my tuna and egg salads. And it is a whole new experience when I gently heat hummus and use it as a side dish in a meal.
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