Comvita-Riddet Institute industry internship starts food product development career

Graduating with a Masters in Food Technology in November and a new job before the end of the year, Varun Gadodia is the first to complete a 10 week Riddet Institute industrial internship at Comvita, following his studies at the Institute. This scheme sees postgraduate students join a New Zealand food company to learn technical, product development and other related corporate skills to complement their strengths in academic research. The company gains the benefit of a world-class young researcher with a background in food science and related disciplines to bolster their commercial projects.

Following his positive experience, Varun is urging all postgraduate students to take advantage of the opportunities provided by an internship in industry. “I grew into my role within the technical team at Comvita and developed independent working skills during my placement. I am very thankful to them for committing to this opportunity – and my job was to make the most of it. I wanted to absorb as much as I could and I never missed a chance to acquire knowledge from everyone I met – whether it was to do with my role, future career or things outside product development, such as marketing and regulatory affairs. I didn’t restrict my boundaries, but expanded them!”

The highlights of the experience for Varun was the collaboration and cross-functional teamwork that goes into developing products at Comvita, growing intellectually, and moving to live in another area of New Zealand. He experienced set backs along the way – which taught him powerful lessons about commercial realities – such as projects being shelved in favour of changing priorities in a dynamic business environment. Experiencing a fast-paced workplace that differs significantly from academia, he was able to help develop a new product, incorporating aspects of consumer research, enhancing product attributes and relating to marketing strategies within regulatory frameworks. The speed of a business environment was new to Varun and he had to develop scheduling, multi-tasking, inter-personal and project management skills quickly in order to work effectively over the short time frame of the placement and, as a result, was able to deliver some great results. These skills are things he will take with him when he takes up his first industry employment role following graduation.

Varun is very proud of the connections he has made and had the opportunity to consult with the Comvita team on their careers and discuss what he should do next. “Definitely all that discussion was very useful and I am very thankful for that. I had the chance to explore my strengths and weaknesses in the work place, to talk about my career plans and about what I could do in the future. As I already have two job offers to consider, this experience really helps with that decision. I am happy to explore different places in New Zealand and that is an exciting thing for me. The more flexible you are, the more opportunities you can welcome”, he says.

From the business’s point of view, Ross Rotherham, Technical Innovation Manager at Comvita, indicates the experience was just as rewarding for him and Varun really endeared himself to the team “though that had only a little to do with all the food he supplied to our monthly team socials!” he says.  “Comvita is a relatively small company. Multi-tasking, keeping on top of competing timelines, these are skills that Varun has learnt with us, as well as a lot of product development. He worked on new variants of a product Comvita developed last year. This included sourcing ingredients, prototype formulation and the design of stability trials. We also needed information to support functional claims we wish to make and he did a great job of sourcing that. His scientific background was invaluable. Unfortunately, Varun won’t be here to see the product manufactured for the first time and launched, which is what every product developer enjoys. It is scheduled for next year but he is leaving with it 80-90% complete, which not only lightened my load but it has given him the opportunity to achieve this for himself”, says Ross.

The Riddet Institute supports this mutual exchange and facilitates funded internships of variable lengths, which average around 3 months, with interested food industry partners. Clearly, for Comvita, the internship was a success. “This was totally worth the investment of time for us. From Varun’s point of view with an international academic background, we hope that he is the architect of his own career direction and this experience will have helped him along that journey,” says Ross Rotherham. “We would highly recommend this type of collaboration, thank you to the Riddet for making it a success and we look forward to working with you again in the future”. Varun Gadodia will take up a new position with Te Puke based firm Kiwi Produce in December.

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