At Innova Flavors, we know the way you flavor your product is your competitive advantage, which is why our three-step process begins and ends with flavor. We work with you to discover the flavor profile your product needs, develop that flavor from idea to mouthwatering completion, and in the end, deliver a winning flavor that’s profitable long-term.
Senior Director of Flavor Creation and Senior Flavor Chemist Mary Maile oversees a team of certified flavor chemists who bring your flavor to life. She has been with the Griffith Foods family for more than 20 years, starting as a senior flavor chemist before being named the senior director of flavor creation in 2012. Her team is responsible for developing and evaluating flavors and applications daily.
Q. Tell me about yourself and your role at Innova Flavors.
Maile: I am a certified flavor chemist, also referred to as a flavorist, and a cross-category flavorist. That means I can develop any type of flavor including savory, fruity, sweet, dairy, alcohol, and more. While I’m considered mainly a savory flavorist, being cross-functional is unique and fun!
To be a flavor chemist, you must attend a seven-year program and be chosen for it based on your knowledge and ability to create. The key to success is having a passion for flavor and having a higher level of taste. After seven years, you can be tested to become a certified flavor chemist. It’s a niche profession as there are only 500 certified flavorists in the United States and less than five percent with savory expertise.
Q: What sparked your interest in the flavor industry?
Maile: I started my career with a flavor company in their applications area, so I was using flavors a little bit and got familiar with their function. The company I was with was growing, so I had the opportunity to become a flavorist trainee. I had a passion for what I was doing with applications, but I looked at flavors and thought wow, flavor really brings a whole new dimension to an application and makes it taste great and flavorful.
I found it so interesting that a small percentage of material can give you a mouthwatering, melting, butter profile, for example. I was just fascinated. When a chef makes something, it could be an hours-long process and their raw materials are usually organically grown and come seasonally. What’s interesting about my job as a flavorist is that I can make something that’s not always in season, but it’s the same flavor all year-round, which is a good savings for a company.
Q: Growing up did you have an interest in the food industry?
Maile: Nutrition is a big part of my history and my mom was very health conscious. She bought different kinds of fruits and veggies, whole grain – all types of healthy foods. And this was 50 years ago! We made from-scratch recipes and never bought off the shelf, so I saw flavors develop at a young age. I received a degree in food nutrition, and I thought I was going to be a dietician, but that wasn’t for me. It was my first year out of school as an applications technologist that I started my pathway to becoming a flavor chemist.
Q: Do you have a favorite flavor?
Maile: I like all different flavors from simple to complex. We have so many materials that I can’t isolate just one or two, but when I’m exposed to something on a project I gravitate towards those flavors and dive into it more. I want to make sure I know what I’m working with and make sure I understand that market.
Q: What does a typical “day at the office” look like for you?
Maile: A lot of evaluation of different flavors and applications. My team is very project-oriented with customer requests and we make sure we follow through with exactly what they need. We also keep up with trends and innovations to make sure we have different items in our toolbox for companies and in general, so we not only work with our customers but also work ahead of them.
Q: What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
Maile: I love traveling with my family, enjoying different cuisines and I’m an avid cycler. I’ve participated in half- and full-distance IRONMAN races. I typically bike and train over-the-road about 2,500 miles annually, and really enjoy that. That’s when I can think and pick-up different smells like flowers, people cooking breakfast and lunch, and I always know when someone’s cutting the grass. In the fall, the air smells earthy and in the spring, you can smell the new blooms. It’s a nice, relaxing ride for me, very inspirational, and a type of creativity.
Q: What excites you about the future of flavors?
Maile: Alternative protein is the future and it’s exciting because we are working with new types of bases and those keep evolving as materials and innovation happens to develop those. It’s happening worldwide and fun to flavor alternative proteins in different ways. I expect to see more layering of and ethnic blends in flavors.
I see alternative protein bases needing a lot of help. Much like medicine, plant-based protein has unflavorful factors that we need to make taste better. We have helped so many customers make their base taste better – you see their faces light up when they try our flavors and helping our customers is what excites me. I really enjoy making food taste better for people.