We have the opportunity to feature another one of our amazing FIF community members, Sherrill Cropper. Her career in the food industry has been all about finding her true calling and figuring out where she could grow doing what she loved most. Sherrill has had some great experiences academically and professionally that led her to a position where she can truly put her skills and expertise to the test. Above all else, Sherrill has learned and truly values the connections she’s made along the way.
Q. Let’s start from the beginning. Where did you grow up? What inspired you to start a career in the F&B industry?
A. I grew up on a small dairy farm in southern Ohio. I spent my whole life being around agriculture, which included being involved in 4-H and FFA. For me, having that connection and understanding of where our food comes from is something that I have always highly valued.
What drew me to the food industry was that it was a unique field with jobs that weren’t broadly advertised, unlike some other careers. A role in this field also contained aspects of all the subjects that I really enjoyed in school (physics, math, chemistry) while still allowing me to utilize my understanding of agricultural. In addition, the appeal of seeing your product on the shelf is pretty cool.
Q. Can you share what your career journey has entailed? Where are you today?
A. Like many, my career journey has not been a straight path. I had to make some strategic decisions and move around to help me figure out what I was truly passionate about. Currently, I am the New Product Development Lab Manager at Lesaffre Corporation, where I do functional ingredient development for the bakery industry. It took me a while to figure out what I really enjoyed, but through graduate school and being on the job I realized my favorite parts of science was doing experimental design and technical problem solving.
After finishing my B.S. and M.S. in Food Science at The Ohio State University, I completed two internships in two different divisions at Heinz North America. At the time, due to the economy, Heinz couldn’t hire me and I found myself transitioning into a Food Technologist role at Roskam Baking in Grand Rapids. I spent a year and three months doing food service product development and it was there that I realized that I wanted to do more with my career.
After being out of school for two years, I applied for my Ph.D. in Grain Science at Kansas State University where I studied cereal chemistry. During my Ph.D., I had the opportunity to also intern at Cargill which was where I got my first exposure to working at an ingredient company. It was through my connections at KSU that lead me to my current position.
Q. What career achievements have been the most impactful to you and those that you have helped along the way?
A. One of my biggest career achievements was launching my first ingredient that I developed for Lesaffre back in 2017. It took almost two years to get it from ideation to launch, but it really helped me decide how I would setup future experimental testing and what our process would be for launching new ingredients for the business. This experience really provided me a better understanding of my role and skills, but also how I was going to make the transition from life in academia back into the industry.
It also gave me the confidence that I needed to find within myself and to recognize what I could actually do. I think as women, we sometimes are our own worst critics and it’s important that we also take the time to recognize the accomplishments and the journey that got us to where we are. In addition, although it may not be the biggest career achievement, getting to lobby on Capitol Hill with the American Baker’s Association back in 2016 was also a pretty great experience.
Q. What are your areas of expertise for Females in Food members to connect with you on?
A. My areas of expertise probably vary due to my random journey, but ingredient functionality is one of the areas that I have been heavily involved with for most of my education and career, whether it be gums and emulsifiers in ice cream chemistry to enzymes and antimicrobials in the baking industry. Currently, my expertise is mostly focused on providing understanding of the baking process and ingredient functionality (dough improvers, yeast, emulsifiers, etc.) for small, medium, and industrial bakeries.
Q. What do you enjoy doing most in your free time?
A. In my free time, I enjoy walking long distance (5-7 miles), reading, riding my bicycle, spin classes and traveling.
Q. What advice would you give your younger self? Or What advice do you have for those who are just coming into the food industry?
A. The advice that I would give to my younger self is “Relax, it’s okay that you don’t have your career planned out and you don’t know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. Enjoy the people and the experiences along the journey because that’s what makes life worth it.”
For those coming into the food industry, I would say “Put yourself out there and try and meet and get to know as many people as possible. One never knows how that one connection may lead you to a new opportunity, be an ally for you, or even become a dear friend.”
Q. What is your favorite “on the go” breakfast?
A. Two slices of toast with peanut butter or grape jelly.