Tom Gibson

Director, Flavor Architect

Our Day in the Lab blog series takes a closer look at our team members to see what it takes to change what the world is drinking!

What does a typical day look like for you?

My work changes day by day, but typically I’ll be writing formulas, compounding formulas, sourcing raw materials… all day I’m pretty much working on developing new formulas for clients. There are flavors that we have in house that we’re getting from different suppliers and in those cases I’ll match those flavors to develop an internal source.

In the grand scheme of things, my job is to take materials that we’re using in the lab and strip them down. In the past, Flavorman would take a flavor from this company, a flavor from that company, maybe 3 different flavors of the same kind. If we use blueberry flavor as an example, one may be juicy, one may be floral, and one may be green, but those flavors also have a lot of stuff they don’t need. What I can do is make a quick formula that combines all the elements of different flavors into one perfect flavor that is exactly what the customer needs instead of a whole new formula of elements they don’t need.

What’s your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part would be the creative part of development. So that involves taking raw materials and forming them to create the specific flavor profiles you’re looking for.

What makes this job different from ones you’ve had before?

This job is different in the sense that here we deal directly with the customer to provide a total solution. Typically, a flavor company will develop flavors for a company, then they’ll take that and build it into their formulation here. We have customers coming to us directly to build beverages, and the fact that we can develop those flavors immediately increases our success rate because the customer is already invested and they can help us build the flavor and the beverage how they want it. So, it’s the same thing I’ve done in the past from a flavor development standpoint, but different from how we deal with customers.

How did you get started at Flavorman?

I’ve worked with Flavorman for a long time through other flavor companies, but I really liked the team and the vision, so I ended up here.

How did you become interested in flavors?

I have a chemistry and biology background and I started working in the lab at a flavor company when I moved to Chicago. I was working at the EPA and took that lab job in the meantime doing quality control for the flavor company and ended up working in development, production, pretty much all different angles of the business.

What are your favorite flavors to work with?

Decadent flavors are my favorite, so things like whipped cream, chocolate, other dairy flavors, things like that. I’ve also worked with a lot of fruit flavors over the years.

Are there flavors that are more difficult than others?

Definitely. Coffee flavors are so complicated because you have all these different kinds of coffee, green coffee, roasted coffee, heavy roasted, et cetera, and they all have so many volatile compounds. There are over 600 raw materials or aroma chemicals that make up coffee. The average consumer can perceive 30 different notes so you have to figure out what 30 elements to use, which becomes really complicated. Tea is another one that’s difficult, as well as tropical flavors. With tropical flavors you’re using sulfur compounds that go in at a parts per billion, so if you’re off just a little bit it smells and tastes horrible.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

I think the toughest part of my job is connecting what the customer wants and translating that into the right flavor. Every component of a drink adds a different note, whether it be rosy, fruity, nutty, et cetera, so molecules you have to translate all those in your head into what the customer wants. Their description could mean one thing to them and something completely different to me, so you have to be able to find the common ground so that the beverage is something the customer imagined. On a smell strip it may smell perfect, and then you put those flavors into a carbonated beverage and it becomes a completely different profile. The trial and error process around getting something just right can be pretty difficult, but that part is still fun.

Has your job as a flavorist changed you as a consumer or affected flavored things that you purchase in stores?

I think it’s hard to avoid, but if you just want to enjoy something and turn your mind off I think that’s important so that you’re not over analyzing anything. Just like it and don’t think about it.

Written on September 14, 2018.