Exploring What Forty Years Looks Like to an Ice Cream Industry Veteran
Connect with Steve
Forty years at one company is hard to imagine, but recently one of our senior food scientists in the ice cream lab, Steve McGowan, celebrated his forty-year anniversary with SensoryEffects. Steve started with the company in 1976, working in a variety of positions within operations including working with cocoa powders, making red, brown and black cocoas on the Cocoa Process Reactor; in wet production; designing and running the company’s first pail filler and the spray dryer. He also worked in shipping and receiving. In the last twenty years, he has been working in the ice cream lab creating new flavors using our flavor bases, inclusions and variegates to produce ice creams and frozen desserts. As a result of the variety of positions he has held over the many years he has been here, he has gained extensive working knowledge of not only how the company operates, but also the wide breadth of our product offerings, as well as our manufacturing capabilities which are in high demand by our customers. Recently, I got a chance to sit down with Steve and learn more about his experiences with the company.
Q. In forty years, what changes have you noticed on both the technical side and the industry trends side of things in the frozen dessert industry?
A. It used to be that the ice cream freezer aisles were full of mostly ice cream in larger containers, and only a small selection of novelties, but now it’s the opposite. In the freezer aisles today, container sizes are smaller and there’s a large variety of premium flavors, all within one brand of ice cream. You’re also seeing novelties and ice creams that have several flavors twisted together, and it takes a pretty sophisticated machine to run five or six flavors together into a novelty bar or a tub of ice cream. That’s one major change in manufacturing and technology – the complexity of the machines that manufacture our products has significantly improved.
There’s also a greater variety of frozen dessert options due to the milk content of these products. Gelatos, Greek Frozen Yogurts and various types of non-allergen and dairy alternatives (soy, coconut, almond milk, etc.) are now being sold.
Q. How do we, as a company, create a niche position in the frozen dessert market? Or What advantages do you think our customers get from working with SensoryEffects?
A. We can provide a wide variety of products to our customers. We specialize in textured variegates and caramels, and provide creative flavor concepts to our customers through our Feature Flavors program. We have faster turnaround times than our competition and we also have a ton of experience on our team. Our experience allows us to work with start-up companies the same way we work with well-established companies. We give everyone the same level of attention, and treat all of our customers with respect and honesty.
Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the ice cream lab?
A. Within the industry, sourcing has and always will be challenging. Nature is hard to predict, so securing a supply of ingredients at a steady price for a particular concept we’re trying to sell, can be a difficult task. Sometimes this leads to multiple reformulations of one project. Being competitive in the marketplace is also a big challenge. Most consumers purchase the top three most-popular flavors: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, and since our company creates new ice cream flavor bases, variegates and other ingredients, we have to really make something stand out that also has broad appeal to a large consumer base, as well as ultimately produce sales.
On a personal level, not having a technical food science background has been challenging, and I’ve had to rely on my team members in some technical areas, but that is where we complement each other as a team (see group photo below).
Q. What has kept you with one company for your entire career?
A. The people I work with on a day-to-day basis have kept me here all these years. It’s a pleasure to come to work every day and see what kind of crazy thing we’re going to conceptualize or create. The group gets to contribute to the challenges and we get to bounce ideas off of one another, particularly with the Feature Flavors program. We come up with much better ideas together than what we can do on our own.
Q. What have you learned over the years?
A. Enjoy your job and don’t over think it. We’ve figured it that out, probably due to our years of experience, when it comes to different tastes, don’t over think. Trust your gut and go with your initial instinct on a project. Also, treat people fairly and honestly - that always goes far.
Q. What have forty years looked like?
A. Well, it’s been interesting! What started out as a temporary position has grown into a career-long learning experience – and not just from a technical standpoint. There’s a synergy and a real sense of team spirit here. We have an amazing capacity and a great group of people whose skills really complement one another. We are all very critical of our work because we’re honest and we motivate each other. When there’s a “win,” it’s a team win because of the collaboration that goes into every project.
Steve’s boss, Jim Nolte, said that Steve keeps setting the bar higher for himself. He’s not afraid to try anything new, and he jumps right in to help in any situation. Steve’s knowledge and the customer relationships he’s built over the years have certainly been an invaluable asset. Join us in congratulating Steve!