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"I get inspired by consumers' needs and demands" - Elham Tehrani [Interview]

As a food engineer with a talent for innovation, Elham Tehrani has mastered the reformulation of pastry products to create sweets that appeal to consumers while meeting the current demands for lower sugar content and natural flavours.

We interviewed her to discover what she draws her inspiration from and find out more about today's challenges in bakery and sweets.

Can you give us a brief summary of your career to date? 

"I graduated from the University of Iceland as a food engineer. Following graduation, I worked for a few years at the food research center in Reykjavik. During this time I gained a deeper understanding about microbiological safety and the spoilage potential of food. In 2012, I decided to pursue a higher education degree and become specialized in food research and new product development. Although the competition was high, I was selected for the European Scholarship to study at the AgroParisTech in Paris, France. During the master studies, I took part in an international New Product Development competition in Dublin, Ireland and I was awarded with the 1st prize for the most innovative product idea for a startup."

"Once I graduated from the master studies, I started working as an R&D Manager at Sweet Bliss in Tehran. Sweet Bliss is the leader in the American and European pastry and baking goods market. In the past 2 years, I have been involved in the formulation of new products, improving the existing ones and maintaining the high and sustainable product quality that our customers like and appreciate."

You create new product ranges - from the initial idea to the final product delivery to the market. What inspires you?

"I get inspired by consumers’ needs and demand. For example, the demand for lower sugar content in pastry products inspired me to develop pastries and sweets made from natural fruit syrups and honey. One of our successful products is a range of fitness and protein bars, which are formulated with nuts, protein, fibers and natural fruit syrups. At the moment, these bars are one of our most popular products on the market."

If you think of a development that you implemented and are most proud of, what would that be?

"One of my recent successes is in replacing artificial colors with natural ones. Colors are one of the major ingredients in pastry products, they highly influence consumers’ choice of pastry. However, many consumers have undesirable reactions or allergy to artificial colors and this is especially true amongst our main consumer group of baked products – the children."

"Interestingly, the source of natural colors is mainly from the fruits and vegetables, therefore, they are more difficult and expensive to apply to products in comparison to the artificial ones."

What do you think the consumers appreciate the most in pastries: the taste, the texture, the smell or the look? Or maybe all these components are always equally important to all?

"Yes, all these components are important for consumers to appreciate baked good. However, my experience is that the appearance, matters the most. Factors such as the color, the shape and the size of the pastry seems to get the first attention of the consumer."

"However, after selecting the pastry based on its appearance, the taste, the texture and the smell of the pastry will become important as well. If any of these factors are not appealing to the consumers, they do not come back for that product again."

From your experience, what is the biggest challenge to meet the sophisticated and demanding tastes of today’s consumers?

"Sophisticated and demanding taste shall be defined first. Consumers’ taste sophistication and preference differs from country to country and from nationality to nationality. Therefore, depending on the country or region we are working in, market research has to be done to find consumers’ taste preferences for that region."

"Next, with the standard tests and the help of the sensory panel, we have to learn about consumers’ taste. Also, important to remember is, that the demand and expectations are ever rising and continuously changing in time so, as a result, it is becoming a highly complex process to meet them. Therefore, understanding this process and developing products that meet the demand is the biggest challenge now."

What is the next challenge in your research and development role that you want to face?

"My next challenge is to focus on the consumers with special needs, such as diabetics and the elderly and meet their craving for sweets with relatively tasty and affordable products."

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