Orange. Grape. Lemon. Strawberry.
Consumers know how these flavors are supposed to taste — but don’t realize how much work goes into creating them.
On top of the extensive research, testing and development that goes into developing a flavor, someone has to make sure that each flavor tastes the way consumers will expect, whether it matches an existing, familiar flavor or is something entirely new.
Juliana Henriques is one of those people.
The process of understanding how to taste a product, called food sensory analysis, is just one of the many responsibilities Henriques has as the primary contact and leader of research and development for Popsicle at Unilever.
“For example, if I’m working for Popsicle on an orange flavor, we might work with a new flavor supplier but we want to match what we currently have,” Henriques said. “I have to make sure I understand the notes of that orange flavor and I have to be able to taste flavors side by side and distinguish the differences between them.”
Popsicle is one of Unilever’s many ice cream-related brands, along with others such as Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum, Breyers and Klondike.
Before Popsicle, Henriques worked on developing Klondike bars that incorporated flavors like brownie batter, cookie dough and s’mores, which was one of her favorite projects to work on.
“Matching the texture of chocolate chip cookie dough, developing a sauce that tastes like brownie batter, and delivering on those bakery favors in an ice cream product was very cool,” Henriques said.
Henriques’ passion for food science began at a young age. Originally from Brazil, Henriques says a related field, food engineering, is a common career for women there, much more so than in the United States.
“I grew up knowing about it,” she said. “I think since eighth grade I knew I wanted to work in this area.”
Henriques started out in food engineering but decided she liked food science better because it deals more with development and formulation, whereas engineering deals more with processes and equipment.
She said her master’s degree in food science from Kansas State University Global Campus, which she earned in 2018, has helped her greatly with product development.
“I went into my product development role not really having studied food chemistry or food sensory analysis, and this degree helped me understand more of these areas.”
Unilever has a plethora of recognizable food and beverage brands, including Hellman’s, Lipton and Tazo. Henriques says that many employees rotate every few years so they can get experience with different products.
“I like the flexibility I have at my job,” Henriques said. “I can move between brands, including within ice cream, but if I wanted to work in tea or foods, I could do that, too.”