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Mr. Ice-Cream
8.25.2002 by JP, every Saturday.


This week I had the great pleasure of learning a bit about the ice-cream biz from Mr. Sean Dowling who works for Imperial Flavours, makers of all the good stuff in ice-cream. He was kind enough to chat with me via email and even sent me samples of the yummy stuff they make, the fresh pralines were out of this world. Sean gets paid to do a job most of us would volunteer for in a second but as I learned it's not all chocolate coated goodness with a cherry on top.



I suppose you should start by telling us a little about Imperial Flavours, not the first company I'd think of when ice-cream comes up, in fact I've never heard of them.

Imperial Flavours is a company that produces the ripples, flavours and novelty items for the ice cream industry, Currently Imperial Flavours is the largest Canadian owned flavour company. We provide ingredients for every major ice cream manufacturer in Canada and the United States. We are very fortunate to have the who's who in the ice cream industry as customers of ours.

And what do you make exactly?

For Example, an ice cream company makes butterscotch ripple. Imperial Flavours would make the butterscotch that is rippled into the product. We also do a lot of research and development on new products and new ideas for ice cream and ice cream flavours.

Ice cream ingredients fall into a few basic categories. Each of which has several sub-categories. These areas are Bases, Inclusions, flavours and toppings. Basically a base is used in either chocolate or vanilla ice cream to create a different texture and flavour. Flavours enhance the taste and the scent of the product. Inclusions are items such as pralines, chocolate pieces and chocolate chip cookie dough. Toppings are literally just that. They are items that are placed on top of the ice cream to enhance the presentation or to add just a little something to it. For Example Chocolate Syrup is a topping.

What's your job at Imperial Flavours? Taste-tester perhaps?

My job is "Marketing and Customer Liaison". The job description is simple. Assist in the development of new products and assist our customers with any issues that they may encounter. Some companies use me just for product development. Others use my experience in Logistics, and Manufacturing to assist their production planning. It's really interesting. The upside to the position is the volumes of ice cream that I eat in a month. The down side is the volumes of ice cream that I eat in a month. On average I will consume between 4-8 liters of ice cream in a week. On top of that I am also eating 20 different types of inclusions, toppings and flavours each week.

Needless to say I skip a lot of meals.

Unfortunately I can not discuss the new concept products that I am working on. Or on the products that some of our customers purchase from us. That is confidential information. However I can tell you that there is probably not one type of ice cream you have eaten in Canada in the past 5 years that Imperial Flavours has not had some hand in.

Ok, I need little orange monkeys for a new flavour of ice-cream called "Tang You Very Much", what could they be made of? What happens next?

Well let's see.

First of all we would discuss what your target market would be. For example; European, Asianic, North American, Children....etc

Secondly, because it is little monkeys. (Which by the way is actually a neat idea) we would discuss the flavour. Would the flavour of the little monkeys be orange, mango, or taste like a creamsicle? (Which as a point of record, Imperial Flavours did buy the popsicle / creamsicle factory several years ago) Or would they be cookie shaped monkeys?

Next of course would be the type of ice cream that you are going to use. Would you like it in orange ice cream, vanilla ice cream, chocolate or a specialty flavour such as creamsicle flavours.

From there you would tell me what you would like or samples of each combination. I would then go into the laboratory and work with our Product Development team in creating the samples for you. Usually we create 1 Litre of each type of ice cream combination and of course the bases, flavours and inclusions that were used in the development of the product. Then you decide which of the products that you like or dislike. I try the product with you so that I can understand what your thoughts are about each product. Then you tell me what improvements or interesting developments must be added or reduced in the products. Then I go back to the lab and repeat the process with the Product Development team.

We repeat this process until you are satisfied with the product.

Then either by yourself or by Imperial Flavours we begin some small marketing testing on the product to see it's viability. (Generally the customer performs this before inquiring about the product. That's why they are asking me to develop the product further for them). When you are finally satisfied with the product I then have our accounting department cost the product and our sales department would create a price. I then make a final presentation with the final product and the price.

Ok, let's say I want banana ice-cream with orange-dyed white-chocolate monkeys and a fudge swirl, what kind of timeframe are we talking about to get test product in my hand?

The monkeys would take about a week maybe two to create the perfect one. (Cutters etc need to be made) Out side of that everything else would be within a few days. Depending on the number of products that the Product Development team is working on. Usually they are pretty quick.

What does it take to work on the Product Development Team? Are you recruiting?

Unfortunately we are not recruiting in those positions right now.

To work in the Product development team you do require at least a masters in chemistry or equivalent science degree. We are actually very fortunate that almost all of our Lab people with the exception of clerical staff have these qualifications.

Needless to say when I am in the lab working on a product I am working under their supervision. I do not sign off on a product until a full analysis of the product has been completed. My big part of "CREATION" is the taste testing and marketing feedback on products.

Alright, scratch that. What qualifications would I need to go after your job?

My position is a little more varied. I have a background in humanities. (So I know how to deal with People) I also have a strong background in logistics, process control and accounting. All of which I use every day.

Erp, still a little out of my league. What's a typical day like for you? Head to the office, break out the giant spoon?

My day usually begins around 6:30 a.m. I usually am doing some marketing research or sampling of product. Days such as the other day are harsh.

I was up at 3:00 a.m. drove to a customer's facility for 6:30 a.m. Showed their staff how to make a product and then drove back to Toronto. I had a meeting in Toronto at 9:00 a.m. and then returned to imperial Flavours at 10:00. I then was in the lab with samples for the Product development and the Research and Development teams.

I went over the application of the products and the time lines required.

I had to discuss some results with several customers and then go to London, Ontario (2 hours drive)

I was there for about 4 hours in production watching them make a product to make sure that it was going okay.

By the time I left there it was about 10:00 p.m. I drove home and got to bed around 1:00 a.m.

Something like that happens at least once a week.

Dear god.

On my last "BIG TRIP" I was in Halifax on a Sunday Night and received a phone call from a customer who had asked to see me the next day in North Montreal for a 6:00 a.m. breakfast meeting. I left Halifax around 9:00 p.m. and traveled to Montreal for the meeting. After that meeting I had to go to their factory and gather some samples for their "New Product Line" I then had to go to Down Town Montreal for a meeting. (Lasted a few hours) and then had to be in Toronto for 4:30 p.m.

I arrived just in time for that meeting and then drove to my office, to drop off the samples, went home, woke up at 6:30 a.m. and was in my office by 7:30 a.m. I was then in meetings with the PD and RD teams until 10:00 a.m. and then I was off to Chicago for a meeting with a customer. I arrived around 4:00 p.m. Chicago time and met with the person until 6:30 p.m.

So yes...it does have its down sides. Right now it is slow for me. Customers only call when they have a production problem and they need me to think through the solution for them. In a few weeks I will be really busy until April. That is when it is really crazy.

That is why next week I am taking a week off to prepare for the upcoming season. I need the rest.

So some people would consider it a dream job. Personally I love it. But yes it is very tiring. I am fortunate enough to report directly to the CEO of Imperial Flavours. So if I would like a day off he would not bat an eye. I just do not abuse that....

Well enjoy your holiday Sean, you deserve it, I think we'll all have to cut back on our ice-cream consumption so that you can get some rest...

Nah. Now pass the butterscotch ripple!




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