MSc graduate of Nottingham University, Natalia Mansilla, originally from Santiago in Chile, has already been dubbed the “chocolate graduate” after being chosen to embark on the exciting new project.
The Chilean is taking on the unique role at Mackie’s of Scotland’s new, purpose-built, £600,000 chocolate factory at Westertown Farm, Aberdeenshire.
The first-of-its kind position will see the food science and technology graduate continue her studies during the research project. Her work will even see her drill down to a molecular level as she tries to establish the ideal chocolate particle size.
Natalia said the job is a dream come true and has meant that she has become the envy of all of her friends and former course mates, she said: “The team on the farm have been especially welcoming and it is amazing to work with a brand that is so ambitious and flexible enough to try new things, as I’m able to experiment and follow up on my ideas.
“I love food and I’m fascinated by the science, the chemistry and emotion of it all. Unlike a lot of sciences, we all relate to food, as we all need it.”
Natalia will apply state-of-the-art testing and lab techniques in an attempt to scientifically establish the ultimate combination of ingredients and procedures to produce ultra-consistent and flawlessly smooth chocolate.
Her research will help Mackie's as it looks to expand its range of chocolate products, and will also help the new product development kitchen with toppings for its renowned ice cream flavours.
Mackie’s current line of chocolate is closely tied to its core ice cream flavours, with milk chocolate, honeycomb, mint and 70% dark chocolate comprising the range, which has established itself in a short space of time, achieving major contracts with several major supermarkets.
As well as a the new scientific approach to achieving choclate perfection, the company has also recruited two chocaholics - who won their position after a worldwide search and competition earlier this year - to help develop new flavours.
Kirstin Mackie, Development Director and one of three sibling owners, said: “Natalia is joining at a very exciting time for our endeavours in chocolate.
“She brings a real energy and we are making sure we can facilitate her new ideas with our product development, as Natalia and the wider team here at Mackie’s have a real opportunity to develop a chocolate brand for Scotland – producing quality chocolate for all tastes.”
Natalia will work closely with Abertay University as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme, with her position part-funded by the UK Government and by Mackie’s.
She received the opportunity through InnovateUK’s Government supported ‘Knowledge Transfer Partnership’ which helps businesses innovate through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base – and providing universities with increased commercial ties.
Mark Abbs, KTP Advisor at InnovateUK, said: “In Natalia, Mackie’s have a real asset, somebody with energy and enthusiasm who I have no doubt will become a leading figure in the industry.
“Mackie’s is a progressive and ambitious company, making this partnership a great fit that will develop the sector in Scotland – and hopefully establish Mackie’s Chocolate as an iconic Scottish brand along with its ice cream.”
Dr John Grigor, Food and Drink Science Lecturer at Abertay University, said: “New product development in the food industry is not an easy task with notoriously high failure rate for new products.
“Each food category generates its own specific technical and marketing issues and chocolate is no exception. Chocolate and more broadly confectionery is an area that the food team at Abertay University are keen to get involved in as it is an interesting category growing primarily due to novel ingredients andcreative product development.
“Natalia will be using the facilities at Abertay University to test a lot of the new products being developed at Mackies. Instrumental testing of the chocolate samples will be undertaken to help understand the structure and composition of the chocolate. In addition consumer and trained panel testing will also be carried out to find out what flavours and textures are most liked and why. New consumer and pilot scale production laboratories are also being built at Abertay University which will help support Natalie and the KTP partnership.”
Speaking about her work, Natalia added: “The particle size of chocolate is surprisingly important.
“Chocolate is a ‘dispersion’, which basically means that there are lots of small particles in another liquid substance.
“There’s an ideal range for those small particles; usually somewhere between 20 and 30 microns, a sugar granule is about 100 microns. Too high and the chocolate will be gritty and grainy, too low and the chocolate will be smooth but can leave a burning sensation in the throat.
“So, as part of my research into the perfect chocolate, I will need to take that into account.
“Having said that, getting the particles the right size can take up to 30 hours of grinding, so it’s no easy task!”