Zuzana van Beveren
Meat, meat alternatives and pet food principal scientist
Company and location
I work at Cargill's European Research & Innovation Center in Vilvoorde, Belgium, which is one of Cargill’s from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds, we are creating innovative solutions across a broad range of ingredients and applications.
I have a master's degree in food science from the University of Technology in Brno, Czech Republic and I conducted PhD study in the field of sensory analyses at Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, Czech Republic.
What's your favourite food/drink?
Each cuisine has its own charming dish and I like to experiment and discover new tastes. Being from the Czech Republic my favourite foods come, of course, from Czech cuisine! I love the combination of meat, cabbage and dumplings. After several years in Belgium, I have also very quickly adopted vol au veau and French fries to my diet.
What inspired you to enter F&B?
I’ve always been incredibly passionate about food – I like to observe how people feel about food and discover the drivers and motivators behind those food choices. The art and science of combining different ingredients to excite the human senses and drive purchasing decisions is what drives me.
Tell us about your role
I joined Cargill in 2016 with a long background in ingredients and solutions development for the meat industry, specialising in both meat and pet food. Over the last year, the meat analogue market has grown rapidly, significantly extending the current offering of plant-based products in Europe. My application focus has consequentially shifted into alternative proteins, and I now lead on developing plant protein-based prototypes for alternative meat from a technical perspective.
What does this mean exactly? Our customers want more than just ingredients – they look to us to bring that deep level of knowledge and expertise to the table to help them co-create and innovate in the alternative protein space. My role is to understand and translate their unmet needs into alternative solutions to meat, developing prototypes that demonstrate the value proposition of Cargill ingredients in the category.
More precisely, this means combining my knowledge of ingredient interactions within formulation with a deep understanding of Cargill’s broad product portfolio to consider different production processes to deliver best in class solutions to our customers. It’s all about bringing to life the science behind the juiciness in a plant-based burger, or improved texture and structure in a plant-based chicken, while demonstrating what is possible with different formulations and ingredients.
What does a typical day look like?
There is no typical day! Each day is different and changes depending on the needs and projects that we are working on. Working in Cargill's European Research & Innovation Center means that I collaborate with people not only from across the region but globally – from internal teams covering customer-facing, marketing, sensory and process development roles to external startups we partner with and the actual customers themselves.
My day-to-day activity can range from research in the lab – such as testing novel ingredients in bench top trials and upscaling pilot plant trials – to organsing customer innovation days or customer workshops where we can demonstrate Cargill capabilities, share knowledge and insights, and co-create.
Hosting a meat and meat alternative pilot plant in our Innovation Center allows me to mimic the customer's production process on a small scale to learn how to perfect formulations with Cargill ingredients while optimising production processes. We also work with chef on concepts developments to showcase our innovation solutions.
How did you get to where you are today?
I started my career by providing technical support in seasoning developments for meat and non-meat applications prior to moving into solutions development for meat, alternatives to meat, and pet foods. In my career I worked very closely with herbs and spices suppliers, flavour houses and functional ingredients suppliers. Hands on experience from the production floor at a meat processor helped to bring another perspective to my solutions development work.
For me, my career has always been driven by my interest in what guides consumer choice, which is particularly exciting in the new frontier of alternative protein. I’m very interested in how ingredients behave on the other side of the table.
When you’re having a bad day, what cheers you up?
The simple act of smiling at another person, saying thank you and showing appreciation can really help to turn around a challenging day.
What’s your favourite part about the food sector?
While I have 20 years of experience across meat, it’s really alternatives to meat that excite me. There are so many opportunities for development and discovery, and it is a very dynamic and diverse field to work in. Everything is happening at the Innovation Center – we’re working with a lot of different partners and start-ups, as well as across businesses to provide cohesive solutions across our entire portfolio, whether that’s plant proteins, smart fat solutions, or other key formulation components.
While there may be a lot of alternative products already on the shelves, they are not all best in class, and my job is to help producers improve on quality to make them better or to help them develop new product. It’s not just about different ingredients – it’s about understanding how the ingredients work together, what the formulation capabilities are, utilising new technologies, mimicking production in a pilot plant trial and working with the sensory team to deep dive into what the customer and the consumer will think.
If you could change one thing about the F&B sector, what would it be?
I’d like to improve access to meat alternative products for consumers so that everyone has the opportunity to explore new tastes and diversify their diets.
What’s next for you/what’s the dream?
I’m excited to be working in the alternative protein space with the capabilities of developing the best-in-class range of alternatives to meat products. My dream is to work on combining structuring technologies with novel ingredients and production processes to mimic, for example, the whole muscle meat in products, and go even beyond that! I think we have the real potential to develop even more amazing products for consumers in the coming years, and I’m excited to be one of the people making new discoveries every day.
Read our latestround-up of senior appointments in food and drink here.