I began my career in the Canadian food industry over 45 years ago as a newly minted chemist. During the course of it I worked as a product developer, basic researcher, quality assurance analyst, and laboratory manager.
I worked for 3 major food conglomerates and the best flavor and fragrance company in the world. And if I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t be able to.
To begin with, entry level positions in my line of work go to graduates in Food Science rather than Chemistry these days. They likely would require a Master of Science degree as well.
Second, there has been a quantum shift in the industrial environment in Canada since the late 1960s.
- My first company (General Foods) closed its Canadian Research facilities in 1992. No jobs there any longer.
- My second company (Standard Brands) merged with Nabisco and Kraft. No R&D done here any more.
- My third employer (Firmenich) lost most of its Canadian ingredient customers and closed its Canadian operations in the late 2000s. Its lovely facility is now owned by a fish packing company.
- My final company (Lipton then Unilever) still has a nominal technical presence in Canada but its scientists have been reduced to product deployment staff – they introduce products to the Canadian market that have been developed elsewhere. Most of my creative colleagues have retired and I’m not sure how many were replaced. The long term prognosis for the Canadian group is not good.
My story isn’t unique – many other companies like Kellogg, Nestle and General Mills have reduced or eliminated technical staff. Nor have my colleagues who worked in quality control or factory management been spared. Former General Foods plants in Cobourg and LaSalle QC have closed. Nestle shut down a plant in Chesterville ON a few years ago, Hershey eliminated the Smiths Falls candy factory. Kraft closed the Christie cookie plant in Toronto. Unilever shut plants in Baie d’Urfe QC, Belleville and Peterborough ON, and will soon close a large factory in Brampton ON that houses the Product Deployment group as well.
What’s been happening is a hollowing out of the Canadian food industry that is controlled by multinationals. Today’s Food Science graduates have to take jobs with smaller homegrown industries, or consider academia or government service. That’s what my daughter did – she has an M.Sc. in Food Science and works for the Federal Government.
As a young chemist today I could likely work for a miner or oil extractor, but any chance for a career in the food industry seems to have vanished into the haze of yesterday. As for my grandson – if he wants a technical sort of career I’d advise him to become a pharmacist.