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Process Engineer * Alternative Protein Food & Beverage

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’re fortunate to be at point in history where investors, companies & consumers are gravitating towards alternative forms of human nourishment.

These companies recognize their mission can positively impact human health, the environment & the economy.

The “alternative” nature of these companies’ mission requires a highly specialized background for their staff – we’re tasked by them to identify individuals with unique process engineering experience and aptitude related to alternative proteins and their application in food, beverage and nutritional supplement products.

Process Engineering roles are in high demand with companies that have a large innovation pipeline or a company that is bringing their first products to market, especially in the alternative protein / plant-based food / beverage space.

These roles can be located anywhere depending on the location of the company headquarters, pilot plant or Innovation Center, as well as the location of the company’s manufacturing partner, if they are using an external manufacturing partner to bring their product to market from the original scale-up.

When it comes to Process Engineering roles, companies look for a blend of characteristics in the individuals they hire.

Product & Process Development experience

There is no standard criteria for what companies look for when hiring for their next Process Engineering role, but there are considerations they have based on a couple different factors.

If the company is using an external manufacturing partner, then they may be less inclined to value deep mechanical engineering experience – that expertise resides with their partner – additional experience is superfluous.

It’s a plus to be familiar, but not at the expense of understanding how to transfer technology or familiarity with the product scale up process.

If a company is building or has their own pilot plant(to what degree it is built out is the degree to which equipment commissioning experience may be a plus), then a company may index more towards someone with a stronger mechanical engineering background or capex engineer.

Plant-based foods process engineering careers

If a company’s pilot plant or innovation center is established and the company is fairly established within the categories they make products, then a company will be more inclined to consider someone with a product / process engineering background – how raw ingredients, products, equipment interact and/or transfer from plant trial to full production runs.

As you can see, much is dependent on where a company is on their Innovation and New Product Introduction journey – also, be conscious this dynamic is fluid – a company that relies on external partners to scale their product up may move to another partner or be in process of constructing/renovating their own plant.  The more versatile, adaptable and/or well-rounded the more you’ll create value within a company.

Plant-based foods

Category experience

Companies always look for individuals with category experience believing it will lead to faster ramp-up time for the new hire.

However, that’s no guarantee of success and secondly, the likelihood of a perfect fit like this is low.

More likely is that companies will appreciate familiarity with processes, packaging, equipment and familiarity with scale-up challenges in similar environments.

In more traditional big-food environments, companies do gravitate more towards category, but as mentioned below, it’s more about process, packaging and typical challenges faced than it is the specific category.

The alternative protein industry, on the other hand, is untapped; having category experience is nice, but understanding the underlying performance of proteins, their sensory characteristics, scale-up challenges and how they perform in a processing and manufacturing setting are just as or more critical.

Absent this, a company will look for expert-level problem solving ability.

Expert-level requires problem-solving rigor and speed – speed to discern will often fall back on your chemical and/or biological engineering background.

Educational background

Areas of educational focus required is Food Science, Chemistry, Biology, Biochemistry or closely related fields of study.

What’s as beneficial is whether or not you participated in scale-ups while in school – familiarity with the manufacturing process and the resilience and adaptability required to “get a product to the finish line”.

Process Engineering & roles focused on technology transfer and/or commercialization require highly orchestrated and collaborative movements between many parties.

In some companies, you’ll see individuals that have limited technical expertise but are expert-level communicators and project managers.

FoodTech, AgTech

While these individuals will not be candidates for “true” process engineering roles, it’s an example of how highly a company values communication and project management skills.

Within your educational experience, companies will look to determine how you problem-solve – how well developed your critical thinking is, and how well you can associate past experiences with what’s in front of you now.

alternative protein careers

Work experience

For Process Engineering roles, companies look for individuals who’ve already experimented with alternative proteins and understand the challenges associated with commercialization.

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 ecosystem is, as an industry, “early-stage”, which means it’s dependent on new research, speed, funding and socio-economic tradewinds.

The degree and speed to which you ADAPT, PROBLEM-SOLVE and INFLUENCE others has a profound impact on a company’s ability to get their product out quickly.

It is a dynamic that as an individual one must embrace it – this is a key hiring consideration.

If a company can shorten its product launch timeline, it can get to market faster than the competition.

If problems in the commercialization stage can be eliminated, mitigated or resolved quickly, this impacts consumer sentiment.

This is as critical to a company’s hiring criteria as is hiring one sales person over another – each critically impact a company’s financial health.

Where are these roles located?

A high concentration of Process Engineering 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” food / beverage supply chain.

For companies that are past front-end research and are in scale-up mode, they now start to look for in-house process engineering and technology transfer expertise.

These roles can be located anywhere depending on the location of the company headquarters, pilot plant or Innovation Center, as well as the location of the company’s manufacturing partner, if they are using an external manufacturing partner to bring their product to market from the original scale-up.

process engineering jobs

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 commercialization experience – these individuals assist their customer(the brand) with moving their new product one step closer into full production.

Are you interested in new opportunities as a Process Engineer in the Alternative Protein space?

If so, let’s connect to confidentially discuss.

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