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Celebrating Our Women: Michelle Pickering

Michelle Pickering is Senior Director for Research, Development Quality - Chocolate Europe. To her friends and family though, she's Willy Wonka.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Michelle Pickering is Senior Director for Research, Development & Quality – Chocolate Europe. To her friends and family though, she’s Willy Wonka.

Research, Development & Quality (RDQ) is where our expert team of scientists, engineers and nutritionists come together to create the products and packs our consumers love. This includes everything from the taste and texture of our snacks to the packaging they’re wrapped in and ensuring food safety.

Here Michelle speaks to us about what her team does, where the ideas for new products come from, making snacks healthier and more.

Meet Michelle Pickering

What We Do

I lead a team of scientists and engineers who are responsible for the innovation behind our products. Right now we have around 100 people in various countries around Europe. Our job is to create all the fantastic new chocolates that we bring to market every year around Europe.

We are also responsible for the value engineering aspect of our products. In other words, how we can deliver the best product for the money without compromising quality. What’s more, we also develop better packaging and smarter manufacturing processes for making chocolate. Processes that allow us to streamline the equipment we use and adopt exciting new technologies.

Once we’re happy with the products, packs and the processes we have developed, we then work with our colleagues in Supply Chain to get everything up and running in our factories and start shipping to consumers.

How We Come Up with Ideas for New Products

It all starts with an occasion. We work with the consumer research side of the business to identify and target different occasions when people snack. For instance, if you’re on your way home from a long day at work and you want to reward yourself with a treat, that’s considered an occasion.

We usually focus on an occasion for one of two reasons. One, because we think consumers would like more choices for that occasion, or two, because we don’t currently have any products for that occasion.

Once we’ve worked out what the occasion is, we start to think about what attributes the chocolate should have. We ask things like, how should it taste? What should it look like? How will consumers interact with it? Would you eat it with one hand or two? Is it indulgent? Should it be refreshing? What flavors should we use?

Once we’ve answered these questions, we begin to brainstorm and develop different products that address the needs of the occasion we have in mind. We’ll then take these products to a group of consumers and use their feedback to narrow down the number of products and start creating detailed prototypes.

We Also Reinvent Existing Products

We spend a lot of time creating new products, but we also spend a fair amount of time reinventing some of the products we already have. Why? Because just like every other fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company out there, we need to maintain the profitability of our business.

We also want to keep growing our establish products, without compromising the quality of our products or the little moments of joy they bring to consumers. Another reason for redeveloping our products is to take advantage of the new developments in ingredients and manufacturing processes that enable, for example, new textures to enable consumers to experience these through our products.

Moving into the Well-Being Space

Our stated ambition is to be the global leader in well-being snacks and I’d like us to get there by transforming our portfolio to provide consumers with choices that they can continue to engage with our products no matter what their snacking occasion is… an indulgent treat or perhaps a better choice snack. By providing these choices, I am convinced that we will become the number one maker of well-being snacks worldwide.

The reason I’m personally invested in this is because as well as working in RDQ, I’m also an athlete. I’m a mountain biker, a marathon runner, a triathlete. Continuing to enjoy fantastic new treats and well-being snacks really appeals to me!

We actually just launched our first ‘Better Choices’ chocolate product in Benelux. It has concentrated orange juice nuggets enrobed in dark chocolate. Not only is it delicious, but it’s a great example of mindful snacking. And one that I’d love to see us do more of.

Loving our Brands

The best thing about working here is the brands. It’s something I’m really proud of. You can’t beat working with famous chocolate and cookie brands. It’s really cool!

Whenever people ask me what I do, they almost always say something like, “Oh my god, how lucky are you!” And they’re so right. I do feel lucky. Getting to work with brands you love is a real joy.

Making the Most of It

I’m originally from South Africa. During that time it was quite a closed environment, so the minute I got to travel I got real wanderlust. I spent all my money going places and doing amazing things. And that’s when it dawned on me how much richer you are as a person when you have these kinds of experiences.

Whatever I do, whether it’s at work or in my personal life, I’m trying to add to my overall experience of living. I call this my degree in the University of Life. It’s about continuously learning and experiencing new things. About making the most of my life.

That’s why I’ve lived in five different countries. It’s why I’ve traveled to places like China for no other reason than to understand the culture and walk along the Great Wall. It’s why I push myself as an athlete and why I climbed Kilimanjaro despite being afraid of heights. And, ultimately, it’s why I enjoy working in a multinational organization like Mondelēz International. Because it offers me so many opportunities to challenge myself, so many people from so many countries I can learn from, and so many ways for me to approach problems and think about things differently.