Gulf Stream Search is an executive search firm that specializes in the placement of top talent in the food, beverage, ingredient and flavor industries.
Our clients are at the forefront of new innovation in the industry – we are fortunate to be at point. in history where investors, companies and consumers are gravitating towards alternative forms of human nourishment.
These companies recognize their mission can positively impact human health, the environment and the economy.
The “alternative” nature of these companies’ mission requires a highly specialized research & development focus – we’re tasked on an on-going basis to identify individuals with unique research and commercial experience related to alternative proteins and their application in food, beverage and nutritional supplement products.
Companies have a varying appetite for in-house research when it comes to plant-based / alternative protein research. It often depends on a company’s liquidity, funding and/or position within industry.
Executive leadership and investors determine whether or not in-house research is a part of their business strategy – some companies decide to fund short-term innovation and new product development, then outsource or partner on longer-term research initiatives.
When it comes to Protein Research Scientist roles, companies look for a blend of characteristics in the individuals they hire.
Companies look for individuals with category experience believing that it will lead to faster ramp-up time for the new hire.
Categories that companies are commonly looking for with regards to experience include plant-based beverages, yogurt, alternative dairy products, meat-based products and bars & snacks.
Since so much of the alternative protein industry is untapped, having category experience is nice, but understanding the underlying performance of proteins, their sensory characteristics and how they perform in a processing and manufacturing setting are just as or more critical.
The degree to which a company is willing to invest in longer-term research is a major consideration for what level of education a company will look for in a Research Scientist.
PhD level education will be preferred when a company has determined they are investing in long-term research.
A Masters degree and work experience(see Category) can be acceptable at times; a company will look to validate this individuals rigor when it comes to managing highly complex and collaborative research projects from concept through presentation.
Areas of educational focus required is Food Science, Chemistry, Biology, Biochemistry or closely related fields of study.
For Protein Research Scientist roles, companies look for individuals who’ve already experimented with alternative proteins and understand the challenges associated with commercialization.
Individuals who’ve worked with or who are currently researching how alternative proteins perform in different food systems are highly desired.
Some companies look for deep specialization in hydrocolloids for example, while others may look for someone that’s more rounded or has worked across food & beverage categories.
The degree to which specialization or a deep vs. broad focus is dependent on team makeup and where the company is in their own portfolio development.
Companies look for individuals that will tend to thrive in more unstructured work environments or ones that tend to have a high degree of change and uncertainty.
The alternative protein phenomenon is, as an industry, “early-stage”, which means it’s dependent on new research, speed, funding and socio-economic tradewinds.
It is a dynamic that as an individual one must embrace it – this is a key hiring consideration.
Where are these roles located?
A high concentration of Research Scientist roles in the alternative protein space are located in parts of the country that historically have not been as prominent in the food & beverage ecosystem.
There are several reasons for this; one major factor is access to investor funding – another is the limited to no reliance on the traditional meat / poultry supply chain.
For brands that are conducting mid to long-term research in-house, Northern California, Central California and Southern California have a concentration of brand focused on alternative proteins. The Western US in general has a significant footprint in protein research in general.
Traditional “big food” brands have developed smaller business units focused on alternative proteins – these roles are still dispersed throughout the US.
Similarly, ingredient, flavor and product development consultancies are scattered throughout the US as well and are hiring individuals with alternative protein research experience – the Research Scientist roles in these companies are attractive to many, especially individuals that want to stay on a research track(similar to an academic track at times) where they are less focused on fast to market applications.