Food technologist
tastes success

Ahmad Yu is used to
his job inspiring envy

The rich aroma of choc-olate greets me every day at the office door. I get to taste all kinds of delicious candy confections and help create new ones. Best of all, this is my job. I'm the product innovation and quality assurance manager at Hawaiian Host Inc.; and the envy of my fellow chocolate-lovers.

Originally from Hong Kong, I came to Hawaii by way of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where I earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and followed up with a master's in food science and technology. I like cooking, experimenting with recipes, and reading the labels on food, making my personal interests a perfect fit with my profession.

Working with chocolate is always exciting. On the product development side, I'm a member of a team that creates ideas that will eventually become delicious new products. Our work involves research, testing and analyzing samples in the laboratory, and making sure the ingredients are compatible. Then comes the tough part: all that sampling and testing! The process is surprisingly long, for candy-making is a combination of science and art.

When our team feels that we've come up with a winning product, samples are market tested to measure consumer appeal. Errors in judgment can be very costly to the company, so even after initial taste-testing with consumers, there's still more work ahead. We have to determine the best size for the product and produce a prototype.

Hawaiian Host's new ToffeeMacs, for example, had to be square because the easiest shape to cut toffee is in squares or rectangles.

Then there's packaging and ensuring that nutrition labeling on the box complies with FDA guidelines. We have really picked up the pace of new products going to market, so you can imagine all the work involved.

On the quality assurance side, we develop systems and processes to ensure safety and quality every step of the way. I'm the first to taste the chocolate, butter, macadamia nuts, Rice Crispies and other ingredients in our products to check for freshness. I also taste our many finished products -- as many as 30-40 pieces a day -- to check for consistency of flavor and texture, as well as retention and shelf-life. Yes, it's a tough job.

People ask me if I ever get tired of eating or working with chocolate candy. Not a chance. In fact, my first job was at a tuna-packing plant where I sampled the canned tuna every day for a year. Amazingly, I still love tuna to this day. However, I prefer chocolate.

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