Tasteworks Flavor Chemist Melissa Conklin Profile

Melissa Conklin, flavor chemist, Tasteworks Flavor
Melissa Conklin, flavor chemist, Tasteworks Flavor

Name: Melissa Conklin

Title: Flavor Chemist

Current location: Tasteworks Flavors

What led you to the flavor industry?

Melissa Conklin [MC]: I have always loved science and art and was familiar with the industry since my father works in it. However, my original plan was to work in pharmaceuticals since I enjoy medicine and biochemistry. A few things proceeded to change this plan- While in college, I fell in love with color and the properties of light, and I was inspired by how nature uses color to convey emotion, tell stories, and signal change. This began my love for storytelling. Then during my master’s degree, I took business and sensory science courses and was inspired by the link between marketing and emotion and the role our senses play in decision making. Third, as I started traveling and eating cuisines from different regions of the world, I saw how food connects communities and people to their ancestors and culture. It was also exciting to smell and taste the spices and flavors which allowed me to connect with the regions. These three events encouraged me to become a flavorist, because flavor creation is storytelling and flavor stories connect with people’s childhoods, cultures, and emotions.

What applications do you primarily formulate for? Has this changed since you first began your career?

MC: I primarily work in sweet flavor creation. When I first started, I mainly worked on beverages, but the applications have become much more varied over time. Two of the more exciting applications have been flavoring personal care products and combining sweet and savory flavors in the snacks industry. My master’s degree had a focus in personal care science, which opened the door for understanding how to formulate bases and flavor personal care products. I also have savory flavor training, which has provided the opportunity to combine sweet and savory to create interesting flavors for snacks and condiments.  

What are some of the current trends that are exciting you at the moment?

MC: Two of the exciting trends in the food and beverage space are nostalgic flavors and products focusing on women’s health. Because of the interplay between scent/flavor and memory, the flavor creation process for nostalgic flavors is also accompanied by countless childhood memories. It is fun developing a flavor while also being transported back to the soccer field. Also, as there is a push for more personalized nutrition, it is great to see companies popping up which focus more on women’s health. I love having the opportunity to work with companies with overlapping passions as my own, and to watch them pave the way for healthy living for all. Some of my personal favorite flavors include mint, ginger, and botanicals, which are commonly found in these products too.

I also love the maximalism trend growing in fashion and interior design. It is exciting to translate trends from other areas into the flavor creation process. The idea for the juxtapositions of colors, patterns, and textures can be brought into the development process to create bold and new flavor combinations. It is also fun to imagine what flavored drink a cheetah in big sunglasses on a hot pink velour couch would drink.  

Advice for people coming into the flavor field.

MC: The perfume/flavor field is inspiring to me, because it is a beautiful blend of science and art with a big focus on storytelling. It is great to familiarize yourself with different cuisines, scents, and colors from around the world, as well as the history of the different regions. I also find learning about marketing and sensory science to be helpful so you can better translate the flavor and fragrance creation process to your customers. And, to build confidence in yourself since flavor preference and liking is so individualized. Have courage to speak your opinion even if it goes against everyone else in the room. Just like art, flavors and fragrances tie in emotion and everyone’s stories are different.  

Are the types of projects you're working on changing over time? How are the creative demands of the job evolving?

MC: Over the past two years, I have noticed a big uptick in the amount of powder flavor requests, coinciding with increased popularity in trends like “#drinktok”, powdered supplements and fancy beverages. It has been important as a flavor chemist to understand how social media and travel bloggers influence trends, and how people are creatively blending flavors from different cultures and travels. Also, content creators engage audiences through visuals, stories, sounds, etc. I have found inspiration from these creators to help develop more engaging flavor demos. Instead of just developing a delicious flavor, I have been working on innovative ways to bring in more of the senses to create a more immersive experience. 

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