Conversations with Angela Fong

By Jejhar Singh and Ng Wan Xin

Angela Fong is the Head of Commercial, Fresh at 7-Eleven Singapore, Dairy Farm Group, where some of her responsibilities include creating and launching new food products. In this article, we learn more about her job scope and responsibilities.

I have been in the food industry for the past 15 years, and I graduated with a Food Science Degree from the University of New South Wales.

When I was applying to university, there were not many institutions offering food science and technology. Some of the options I had were going to the UK or Australia. I picked the latter.

Currently, I work at 7/11 under Dairy Farm International Holdings Limited, as the Head of Commercial for Fresh and Ready to Eat categories.

My family used to be in the food manufacturing business. When I was young, while my friends were playing around in the playground, I ran around in the manufacturing plant. I was exposed to many different intriguing manufacturing processes, even though I did not understand them then.

My parents would bring my sister and I to informal meetings with our customers, so I had that kind of experience from a young age. Also, my family members always encouraged us kids to try different types of food. That probably subconsciously ignited my passion for pursuing a career in the food line.

When I was still in school, I was tempted to be a food flavourist. But I realised that the career path was way too long, so I decided to go into something else.

When most people get exposed to food, they genuinely love it and try to find out more. They get curious. That is probably one of the first phases of interaction with food. I always believe that food has the power to bring people together, and I want to talk to people through my food. I guess you can say food has always been my calling.

I think curiosity is a necessary trait for everything, not just for food. It is when you are curious about things, which leads you to find your passion. 

Having good business sense and the ability to marry the commercial considerations and food manufacturing process, or product development, is also necessary. 

You have to be flexible because when you have an eagerness to learn, people will give you opportunities to learn or start something that allows you to gain visibility in this industry.

And lastly, you can never go wrong if you can have the attitude of always putting the customer first. 

I think it is as stressful as any other finance job or operational kind of job. The highs are when you start creating food and launching the products in the market, and people come on social media to say they loved the food —  that’s enlightening and heartening to know. So to me, the lows are negated by all the highs.

For me,  it is working around the kitchen, creating the next new flavour, and getting to see the entire process of project management to the launch of the products. I think that is very engaging and it involves working with many people. For example, there are stakeholders who you will need to work with on how to communicate the product to the public.

For me, at least, the beauty of working in a food company is that there is not usually a typical workday. I start my day around eight in the morning, and I would grab a cup of coffee.

Then I would start to look through the sales and ensure that we are on a good trend. I usually focus on the weekly category reports that my team has produced. 

I try to spend more time with people when I am in the office. So instead of doing a lot of desk work, I would catch up with the marketing team on how our campaigns are running, the upcoming launches, or any other social media briefs that I may need to go through with them. My team would keep me up to speed on the updates on their projects, including raising any operational issues that we foresee in campaign launches. 

Afternoons are the most interesting part of my day because that is when I start ‘eating’. Usually, after meals, we do the product evaluations, which could take almost an entire afternoon.On average, I have to taste about 10 to 20 products. And on tough days in the past, I had to do up to 60 products in a day. I have a technique to stomach all of it, otherwise, I would not be able to taste that many products with all the tasting sessions we go through. 

The team also discusses the retail selling price, margins, and situational analysis. We have to understand our competitors for example, the landscape, who produces similar products and their product positioning, and how that influences our marketing strategies. As you can tell, my afternoons are usually pretty heavy!

Salary-wise, while the food industry may not always be the most lucrative, it is very satisfying and rewarding when you know that you can change the world in terms of consumption or human nutrition. With all of the concerns around climate change, food security, and developing products, our industry’s work in meeting the nutritional needs for the next generation is essential work. 

Behind the bloggers commenting on how good their food tastes, we need people working on creating great food. So I think being willing to learn, being open and building a lot of all these transferable skills will make yourself a valuable asset.

Of course, you have to have a very keen interest in food to keep learning about it. That, I believe, will take you very far. There is no shortcut, unfortunately.

I would start with the one that has the lightest taste and slowly move up in terms of intensity. So we decide the sequence of tasting the products based on each one’s sensory intensity . The sequencing process is important; as samples have to be tasted at the right temperature, ensuring that it is exactly the same as any customers would consume them. During this tasting process, we take notes on areas for improvement which we share with the food developers. For instance, the texture of a product may not be ideal.

I do see myself contributing more to the growth of the people around me. 

I hope to inspire more people to join the food science industry! It’s one that people have many misconceptions about. There is a lot of support work that is required to help people in our industry develop future-ready skills, to meet the needs as our industry grows.