I Want Your Job: Chocolate taster

'My desk is covered in chocolate - it's fantastic'

Sally McKinnon, 32, is a product development manager for Tesco. She buys and tastes chocolates for the supermarket's seasonal ranges

What does your job involve?

I work on our seasonal chocolates - we bring out special ranges for Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day and Mothering Sunday. At the moment, I'm working on our Father's Day chocolates. We need to plan each range really far in advance, so I start thinking about the Christmas chocolates in January, and sign off the range by June or July.

We do a lot of market research, and hold tasting sessions in stores around the country, to give us a snapshot of what kind of chocolate people like in different areas. I'm always looking out for new chocolates, and checking the daily sales of our competitors. This week I flew out to Belgium for a couple of days, to pick up some new ideas from the chocolate shops in Brussels.

How did you become a chocolate taster?

I did an honours degree in food science at the University of Aberdeen, then worked for an ice-cream supplier, developing new flavours. Since getting my job at Tesco, I've worked on their sandwiches range, yoghurts and desserts - and even sushi - before moving into chocolate.

What do you love most about your job?

It's the best job in the world. I get paid to taste chocolate every day. My desk is absolutely covered with chocolate - it's fantastic. I really enjoy working as part of a team, developing the chocolate ranges. Everyone's interested in the product, and when we have to do tasting panels there's never any shortage of volunteers. I also love the travelling. I often get to visit Paris, Brussels or New York to see what kind of chocolate is selling well there. And when you're in store and you see a customer buying a product that you worked hard to develop, it feels great.

What's not so great about it?

The calories. You have to make a conscious effort to eat healthily for the rest of the time. Luckily, we have a gym at work, and I try to go there regularly. You also have to get over your fear of the dentist, because you'll be making a lot of trips there for check-ups.

What sort of skills does someone in your job need?

You need to be enthusiastic and passionate about chocolate, and really enjoy food, to do the job well. It's also important to be interested in the latest trends, and to be up-to-date with food issues like allergies. The job involves a lot of interacting with suppliers, design agencies who do the packaging, and of course, customers. So you need to be a "people person" - a good and clear communicator.

Is there any advice you'd give someone with their eye on your job?

You need a food qualification or degree in nutrition or food science. Get some experience in product development, from the retail side or the supplier side. There are so many opportunities available, I'd say people should go for it.

What's the career path and salary like?

At a big supermarket like Tesco you can move into different food areas. So instead of doing chocolate, you could move over to do coffee and tea. As a graduate, you could expect a starting salary of between £15,000 and £20,000. A manager at Tesco might earn between £25,000 and £45,000.

You can get more information on training from Improve, the Sector Skills Council for the food and drink industry, at www.improveltd.co.uk; or the Institute of Consumer Sciences at www.icsc.org.uk.

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