Research and development (R&D) in the consumer products industry is the cutting edge where science meets business, and as a result it’s an area with a definite buzz about it. Graduates working in R&D work out how to give consumers what they want and turn concepts into reality, whether by refining existing products or developing new ones.
Consumer products companies are very forward-looking and innovative, and R&D is vital when it comes to staying ahead of the competition. In a graduate career in this sector you might be asked to develop and improve existing products, evaluate competitors’ products, liaise with raw material suppliers or supervise factory trials.
What is it like doing a graduate job in consumer product research and development?
Scientific and technological investigation and testing are central to graduate R&D jobs, but you shouldn’t expect to spend all your time locked away in the lab – you’ll probably have plenty of contact with teams from other areas in the business, such as manufacturing and marketing, and graduate training programmes may be structured to support this. Other aspects of your work could include patent protection, regulatory compliance or ensuring that products have the lowest possible impact on the environment.
For example, if you were working on product development for a new snack, you might take part in trialling different ingredients, recipes and processes to come up with the right taste and texture. The next stage is process development, which involves investigating techniques that could be used to bring a product to market, then designing and testing new machines to be used in manufacturing it. You could also be involved in devising and implementing quality assurance procedures, developing packaging, or checking on product safety.
The structure of the R&D division varies from company to company and encompasses different tasks and roles at different stages of a product’s life cycle from prototype to manufacturing and full-scale production. Some organisations have specific research centres at a range of international locations.
For example, L’Oréal owns 19 research centres around the world. Work at these centres focuses on improving scientific knowledge of colour, skin, and hair and developing new and innovative products. Danone has two main research centres, in France and the Netherlands, four further specialised research centres and 55 research branches around the world.
What skills, aptitudes and qualifications are needed for a graduate career in consumer products R&D?
You are likely to need a specific degree, for example in chemistry, engineering, chemical engineering, food science, physics, mathematics, biology, physical science, behavioural science or design, or another relevant technical area. Recruiters want curious, inquiring people who are willing to ask questions and follow them up in order to ensure that products evolve to meet consumer demands.
You’ll need good analytical and communication skills, and the capacity to be creative and innovative. You’ll also need the ability to empathise with consumers, in order to deliver what they want, and good commercial awareness. You may need to be willing to relocate if you take part in a graduate programme that involves placements in different areas of the business, or if you are to be based at an organisation’s R&D centre.