“How I got my job designing chocolate bars”

Written by Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Meet Lizzy Dindale, the woman who created an M&M that tastes exactly like a hot cross bun.

Lizzy Dinsdale is a research and development scientist at Mars. During her eight years at the company, she has been the engineer behind some of the nation’s best-loved chocolate products – and is in charge of all things caramel for the business.

Here, we chat to her about how she got this sweet job, what it’s really like to work with chocolate all day, and her career advice for anyone hoping to do the same.

How did you get the job?

My background is in mathematics. I did a maths degree at uni and then applied for the Research & Development Leadership Experience graduate programme at Mars, and that’s how it all started.

For the first few years, I worked across different teams. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity with Mars to move to Australia and I worked in the product innovation team there for three years. I just moved back eight months ago!

Did you always know you wanted to work with chocolate?

Not really, but I have always loved cooking, baking and food product development. That’s what I wanted to do but, once I started my maths degree, I wasn’t sure it was possible anymore.

The great thing about Mars is, to get onto the graduate scheme, you can have a 2:1 degree in any science-related subject – not just Food Science.

What does a typical working day look like for you?

Product innovation sees you do everything – right up to working with the design and marketing functions – in order to come up with a new product concept. That new product might be something consumers have told us they’re looking for, or it could be inspired by trends in the marketplace. It’s all about what we can do to fill that gap in the consumer’s day.

Once I have this idea in mind, I then spend a lot of time in the labs working with chocolate and ingredients coming up with possible solutions. And then I figure out how we can scale up whatever I’ve created. The goal is to take something I have made by hand in the lab and mass produce it – without losing those individual attributes that I’ve designed.

Could we call you a chocolate scientist, then?

Absolutely, I’m a chocolate scientist. I develop the products, write the recipes, and work out how everything’s going to look.

What chocolates have you created so far?

I haven’t produced anything for the UK yet as I’ve only been back for a short time. But, while I was over in Australia, I designed a hot cross bun-flavoured M&M. It looked and tasted exactly like a milk chocolate M&M, but also like the fruits and cinnamon spices of a hot cross bun!

Where do you source your inspiration from?

My role here in the UK is focused on seasonal and gifting products. People want a treat but, at Christmas and Easter time, they want something even more exciting and special because ‘tis the season. That’s where the inspiration for Australia’s hot cross bun-flavoured M&M came from: it was a very traditional Easter flavour – and it felt extra-special because you only get them at Easter.

Sometimes you go home thinking you’ve spent the day playing with chocolate and caramel and thought, where can this go? In your mind, it can go as far as you want it to. You can wander round the supermarket for ideas, or go to a restaurant and try a great dessert. It’s all about thinking, how can I put this flavour into one of our products so it’s accessible to lots of people?

When is the busiest time of year for you?

Well, it’s seasonal – but we work six and 12 months in advance. It can be weird walking around the supermarket at Easter and seeing all the chocolate eggs, because all you’re thinking about is Christmas.

Do you spend a lot of your time eating chocolate?

We’re always trying lots of new chocolates that we’ve developed. That’s my favourite thing about the job, actually: making something in the lab and sharing it with your colleagues and getting their opinions. Does it need more or less of something? Does it taste really good? And then off you go back to the lab, ready to make it taste even better.

How do you maintain a good work-life balance?

Mars really focuses on a good work-life balance, and that all focuses on exercise for me. I love being outdoors, and there’s a gym on site which is great to visit before or after work, or even on your lunchbreak. For me, Monday nights at 5pm are circuits time – when I leave the office. On the dot.

Do you stay logged on at the weekend?

No, weekends and holidays are when I switch off. It’s the good thing about Mars: we all pull in to offer support across the team, so that we can cover people’s work when they’re off. There’s no expectation to log in and check your emails while you’re off. Sometimes, if I’m doing a trial, I may have to be at work for a little longer – but it’s fun doing them, so I’m never disheartened if I leave a little later on those days.

What common misconceptions do people have about your job?

Most people think I work in the labs and play with chocolate all day… which is true.

What’s the best part about your job?

It’s when I walk into a supermarket and see a product that I’ve designed. It’s so nice to buy that product and share it with my friends and family. Plus, I’m never somebody that’s talking about a really boring job at parties: people always want to hear more about what I’m doing!

And the worst part?

The worst part for me comes whenever I eat a competitor product, because my family and friends judge me. They tell me it’s not allowed. But I tell them that it’s all about research: we have to keep up to date with what everyone else is doing!

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

To take opportunities when they’re given. For me, that was the option to go to Australia. I could have written a whole list of reasons why I shouldn’t move to the other side of the world on my own, but it’s probably the best thing I’ve done. Opportunities can be scary, and there can be risks, but you have to go for it.

What tips would you give to any woman hoping to climb the career ladder?

Don’t feel judged by anybody for what you want to do. Yes, there are some people who believe that there are careers for men and careers for women. But, if you’re passionate about a science subject – whatever that may be – then just go for it. Don’t worry about being the only woman in the room. I’m lucky that somewhere like Mars is very career neutral; there’s no judgement. I’ve worked with the operations team, a more male-dominated area, but I’m always looked at as an equal.

How can we better support women in the workplace?

I’m really lucky at Mars. When I look around the business, I see women at all different levels, on all different career paths. There’s a high-percentage of women within the leadership team who have families and high-powered jobs. And there’s a lot of women we are able to have as role models and mentors.

I think that’s a great place to start. If you have women in a position where they’re able to inspire and lift up others, it inspires them. It makes them believe, yes, this is what I can be doing. And that’s so important.

You can find out more about the Mars Research & Development Leadership Experience here.

Image: Mars/Unsplash

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