Our Day in the Lab series takes a closer look at our team members to see what it takes to change what the world is drinking! In this segment, we talk all things flavors with Director & Flavor Architect, Tom Gibson — also known as our very own Willy Wonka.
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 Flavorman clients. I might spend an entire day making three different blueberry profiles: one may be juicy, one may be floral, and one may be green. Or I might make a quick formula that combines all those elements into one perfect flavor, depending on what our clients want. All of our flavors are completely customizable, which gives us the flexibility to be precise when we’re developing our clients’ dream beverages. It sounds like magic, but really it’s just science!
What’s your favorite part about your job?
It’s definitely the creative part of development, which involves taking raw materials and forming them to create the specific flavor profiles our clients are looking for.
What makes this job different from ones you’ve had before?
This job is different in the sense that here, we work directly with the client to provide a total solution. Typically, a flavor company will develop flavors and sell those to various companies who will take those individual flavors and integrate them into their formulations. Here, we don’t sell flavors. Our ‘product’ is custom beverage development services, and a part of that is flavor creation. We partner with our clients and work with them hand in hand to develop their dream drink. The fact that we have the capabilities to develop our own flavors is a huge resource for our beverage development process, because we are equipped to build our clients’ beverages — and flavors — exactly how they want it, from scratch. So essentially, my job is the same thing I’ve done in the past from a flavor development standpoint, but different from how involved our clients are in this process.
How did you get started at Flavorman?
I was familiar with Flavorman through other flavor companies I’ve worked with, and 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. I was working at the EPA in Chicago, and took a lab job at a flavor company doing some quality control in the meantime. While I was there, I ended up working in development and production — pretty much in all different angles of the business — and really enjoyed it. So here I am!
What are your favorite flavors to work with?
Decadent flavors are my favorite — like whipped cream, chocolate, dairy flavors, and 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, and more— 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 you want to use, which can get 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 parts per billion, so if you’re off just a little bit, they’ll end up smelling and tasting horrible.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
I think the toughest part of my job is connecting the abstractness of a client’s vision and translating that into the right flavors. Every component of a drink adds a different note — whether it’s rosy, fruity, nutty, or something else. As a flavorist, I essentially have to translate all those molecules in my head to the sensory experience the client is asking for of their beverage. Their description could mean one thing to them, and something completely different to me and my team. It’s important to be able to find a common ground so that the client’s beverage turns out the way they imagined — if not better! Another complication is that on a smelling strip, your aroma may be perfect; but then when you put those flavors into a carbonated beverage, it can take on a completely different profile. The trial and error process involved in beverage development — getting those flavors just right and getting them to stay that way — can be pretty difficult, but it’s still a lot of 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 let yourself turn off your mind for a while, you can save yourself from over-analyzing everything you consume: just like it (or don’t), but don’t think too much about it!
Have a great drink idea? Flavorman can help you bring it to life. Give us a call at (502) 273-5214 or contact our team through this webform.
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