Sunil Patil is the Head of Research, Quality & Technology for Kellogg-Tolaram Nigeria joint venture, the leading snacks and breakfast foods operator in Nigeria. In this interview, Patil takes us through his journey in the food industry that started out in India, his move into the food industry in Africa, his roles and responsibilities and future prospects.
1. Describe your current role, your key responsibilities, and the most critical deliverables? What are the most important skills sets in achieving success in your role?
I am currently the Head of Research, Quality & Technology for Kellogg-Tolaram Nigeria joint venture, responsible for identifying the opportunities and to develop new food products to enhance the consumer experience of a globally trusted brand Kellogg’s.
We recently launched Kellogg’s Moons & Stars with disputative proposition that excited the Nigerian consumers due to its unique duet concept that enthralled the kids, delivering a milky chocolate taste and which is complimented with great visuals, like dual shapes (Moons & Stars with respective natural color combinations).
I am a seasoned R&D professional in FMCG food specialty that graduated from the CSIR – Centre for Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) in Mysore, India.
2. Tell us about your company and how it fits in with career goals. Briefly, what is the typical day like in your role and company?
Kellogg’s is the world’s #1 cereal player with back up of technology and Tolaram is largest FMCG player in Nigeria with ambitious plans to serve African consumers to fulfill their nutritional and satiety needs with our food products.
We constantly thrive to identify the innovation opportunities in everything we do daily.
4. What have been your previous roles before the current one? How important were those roles in shaping your current role?
It has been 18 years of progressive R&D journey in FMCG food space in multiple categories (Extrusion, Baking, Cereals & Snacks) and in multiple business models (FMCG, Retail Sector, B2B Ingredients).
My last assignment was Senior Manager R&D at Britannia Industries India for 5 years, before joining Kellogg’s Tolaram Nigeria in 2018.
Each role helped me to get acquainted with enhanced skillsets in consumer behavior in the respective geography, front line innovations strategies and subsequent product development expertise in respective technologies and product categories.
5. What have been the key turning points in your career? Have you ever had a change in career direction? If so, how did you handle the change? What lessons did you derive from this change?
Every role made me a better professional on how to create winning concepts. For instance, my role at retail companies gave me 360-degree commercial aspects of how value addition can done when product moves from farm to manufacturing to retail store, till it reaches the consumer.
This led me to become a Category Manager at the international trading company Watanmal Group to develop propriety products.
One of the big turning point in my career was joining Britannia Industries, where I handled multiple roles like leading R&D productivity projects to improve the bottom line of the business by renovating and re-optimizing the product designs.
Further, I led value innovation in the Tiger brand of biscuits and went on to lead the disruptive innovations and new technologies by democratizing the super-premium categories at affordable price points that contributed to topline growth of the business.
Joining the Kellogg-Tolaram joint venture was a bold decision but it has been a trotting journey while trying to get acquitted with consumer habits in a new geography to deliver business solutions at lightning speed.
I must say Britannia Industries gave me the expertise in foods R&D space and perhaps those were the golden days of my career.
6. What makes your role interesting? What do you enjoy most about your role? What has been the role of mentors and family in the achievement of your professional goals?
Am fortunate to have worked with some of the best brains in the food industry. Every superior has pushed me to raise the bar and coached me to hone my R&D skills in the FMCG foods space.
Guiding businesses with strategic techno-commercial insights is what makes my role exhilarating!!
7. What challenges do you face in delivering on your current role and how do you overcome them?
Overcoming the constraints on lack of resources, quality talent, infrastructure, addressing the gap between consumers’ audacious aspirations and affordability.
Perhaps the best way I overcome these challenges is to scout for alternative ways of solving the problems. In fact we never solve a problem; we counter it – that’s difference in thinking and mindset.
8. What is the status of the sector in which you operate in the region and Africa and what do you think are the opportunities, challenges, and market trends in the sector?
Africa is the next big emerging market due to the expected large number of young population by 2050. Opportunities in a convenient, healthy and nutritious yet indulgent product are the key mantra to serve African consumers.
The real challenge for all the food companies is to engage with the consumer to enable them to switch from their consumption of traditional ways of homemade cooking style to safe, nutritious packaged food that empower their healthy living. Indeed this is a slow process that would take the next 2 generations to see the next real impact. We need to be resilient in a market in which we operate.
9. How do you wind down after a hard day at work? What are your personal hobbies? How do these hobbies contribute to your personnel and professional development?
Spending time with our little twins is perhaps the best joy to my wife and me each evening. We are deeply delved into their nasty activities!
10. What are some of the personal or community activities you engage in to develop yourself or your community?
I engage myself in online mentoring of young students and professionals known to me.
11. How can young people who may aspire to a career choice like yours plan their journey? What advice would you give them to succeed in their careers and life?
One of my previous superiors taught me a great lesson that is imbibed in me: “Never come to me with a list of problems; come to me with a list of options to counter the problems.” That means that we are paid for solutions, not to bring issues.
As long as young professionals manage their current role with this approach, they would eventually be assets anywhere they work. Plus, one has to constantly up skill their functional skills to be competent, so as to stay relevant in the market. Career progression is inevitable if they follow such simple values.
12. What else would you want to do in the future? What would you want to accomplish in your career before you step away from the industry?
Natures law is we should pass on what we possess to the next generation – hence, I am keenly exploring opportunities to get associated with universities and associations to teach the next generation of talent.
This feature appeared in the November/December issue of Food Business Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE