I’m a chief flavorist who’s developed over 2,000 scents and tastes for some of your favorite foods and beverages. Here’s what my day looks like.

headshot of Marie Wright

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Marie Wright, a 50-something-year-old chief global flavorist from Cranbury, New Jersey, about her career path. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I work for global nutrition leader ADM. I’ve probably developed more than 2,000 flavors in my career for CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies as well as private-label and quick-serve restaurants.

I got a double first-class honors degree in food science and chemistry from King’s College in London, then trained as a flavorist with Bush Boake Allen (acquired by International Flavors and Fragrances) and have spent the majority of my career working at flavor houses. I moved to the US in 1996.

I became interested in flavors and aromas at a young age

two women in lab coats testing flavors in a lab

My father is Turkish, and my mother has Italian heritage, so I was exposed to a wide range of interesting flavors early in life.

Summers were spent in the South of France, close to Grasse — considered the fragrance industry capital — which drove my curiosity and appreciation of scent and aroma.

I joined ADM in 2012 

In 2016, I was promoted to VP of global flavor creation and chief global flavorist, then started my current role last January. 

As president of creation, design, and development and chief global flavorist, I manage a team of more than 600 people, including food scientists, food engineers, flavorists, color and extract scientists, and chefs. 

Our team is focused on delivering solutions to customers, which may be a single ingredient or a complete product.

No day is the same. I think that’s why I love my job so much.

A typical day starts with calls to the team in Europe, meeting with my team and senior leadership, maybe a webcast, and a lot of tasting and smelling of flavors and products. 

Additionally, I spend time as a practicing flavorist and work closely with customers, and some part of the day is spent driving those projects.

I think it’s important to keep honing my craft and be a role model to our scientists. So I’ll still wear my white lab coat.

In terms of my work lately, we’re heavily focused on our health and wellness platform, especially specialized nutrition, as well as the beverage category, which is our bread and butter. I love the work we’re doing in alcohol, which is another fun segment, offering the opportunity to be more adventurous.

It’s been rewarding to see how the products we’ve created are expanding across the globe

two women in lab coats bottle juices in a lab

Plant-based meat especially has continued to evolve, and there’s a huge opportunity there globally.

There’s a lovely peach flavor I developed that performs well in seltzer. It’s complex and uses many natural extracts and oils and — it’s not often that I say my flavors are clever — but it really is a clever flavor.

I’m also very proud of our fish and seafood flavors, which are in demand in the alternative seafood space. We made a great shrimp flavor and white-fish flavor recently.

My favorite flavor of all time is black truffle

Certain savory flavors like truffle are very evocative. The aroma makes you salivate, and it conjures up sophistication. I also like the complexity of the flavor. 

As far as application, it’s fun to put into oils and even something like a beverage, just a little trace, maybe combining it with something like a strawberry flavor. I’ve spent time in Italy and France during truffle season, so there may be a bit of a personal connection there for me, too.

We’re working a lot with coffee, tea, and energy drinks

three women in a lab testing out citrus flavors

The flavors associated with energy are becoming more complex.

Energy flavors encompass a variety of profiles, from rainbow sherbet to mango guava. Watermelon is also a flavor that continues to gain popularity due to its refreshing profile and ability to mask some of the bitter notes from the energy ingredients.

Lastly, citrus is a big focus for us. Orange has always been the biggest and most-loved flavor in beverages, but consumers are getting more adventurous and desiring more interesting profiles, and so there’s a focus on varietal oranges like blood orange and more unusual types of citrus — something like an Australian finger lime, for example.

As consumers become a little more adventurous, I think we’re going to see these interesting fruits in more mainstream products. If you think back, mango used to be a bit shocking 10 years ago. Now it’s mainstream.

I founded the Academy of Future Flavorists and am a faculty member there, so I spend time teaching and creating content

It’s a privilege to play a role in shaping someone’s career and evoking the passion of the flavor world. All our seasoned flavorists are asked to mentor and teach. 

Many flavorists learn by modifying flavors because they have access to all these existing formulas. It’s really easy to work that way, but it isn’t going to drive innovation. What we want in ADM is a team that is capable of creating original formulas from scratch. Our flavorists develop their own unique style. 

We’ve trained about 15 flavorists to date, and we’re also launching a new fast-track savory program in September that will run concurrently in Berlin and the US.

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Perri Ormont Blumberg August 13, 2021 at 08:36PM

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