JJA Headshot (4)[3]

Name: Joanna (Jo Jo) Anastasiou

Age: 24

Job title: Food and drink tester

Company & location: The Good Housekeeping Institute, London

Education:  I studied Geography with Conservation Biology at the University of Exeter and, following that, I completed the 12-week course at Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Why did you decide to go for a career in food & drink? I’d always wanted to work in the food and drink industry – I just wasn’t quite sure in what capacity. When I was very little, the goal was simply to make cakes when I grew up. This later evolved into my ambition to study at Ballymaloe Cookery School, something I completed in 2020. My teachers there opened my eyes to the sheer volume of opportunities within the food and drink industry and helped me to find the niche I wanted to be in.

Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): At the Good Housekeeping Institute, my work revolves around testing commercial food and drink products. The tests form the content for Hearst brands’ review pages and seasonal round-ups – think ‘the best mince pies for Christmas’.

What does a typical day look like for you? It really varies. I spend my time across the kitchen, the office, and interacting with members of the public who come in to take part in our blind taste tests. The Good Housekeeping Institute has been testing products for nearly 100 years, so there’s such a wealth of knowledge and expertise to learn from. As well as a team of expert testers, we have a diverse panel of consumers who come in to blind test products too. It’s brilliant getting to meet and work with people from all walks of life as part of the job.

On a day where we have a taste test running (or two!), I help prepare all the samples and ensure the testing space is ready. All of our tests are done in complete silence, with palate cleansers in between different products, and testers using flavour wheels to help evaluation. For the consumer tests, I’m responsible for meeting and greeting the participants, leading them through the process from start to finish. After that comes the most exciting part… tasting the products myself! We tested an enormous 2,207 products last year, so you can imagine the variety of products that cross my desk, from Easter eggs to champagne! Of course, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes when we’re not testing, like recruiting panellists, organising product deliveries and analysing the results.

“Something I’d like to tap into more as I progress through my career is sustainability”

Tell us about how you went about applying for your job: I applied for the position online by submitting a cover letter and CV. Following that, I had two interviews: the first online and the second in person. In my in-person interview, I also completed a written task, carrying out some analysis of consumer survey results. This task was definitely the most challenging part for me because, although I had done plenty of qualitative data analysis throughout my degree, this was my first time coming across it within the food industry. 

What’s the best part about working for a food & drink company? I love being in an environment where I’m constantly exposed to the newest and most exciting product launches. I’m consistently so impressed by the level of innovation within the industry, which keeps the job exciting. I get to learn from the very best, too, both internally and externally. The brands, ingredient suppliers and developers we work with are really inspiring, and we’re always inundated with press events and new experiences. In my first week I was learning about sensory product evaluation, and I’ve just recently passed my WSET Level 2 in wine, which I cannot wait to put that to good use!

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? I always knew food and drink was a huge industry, it’s only recently that I’ve really understood the breadth and variety of roles that actually exist. So much work goes into turning an idea into and product, and then even more to get the product out to consumers. A couple of years ago I hadn’t considered that ’food and drinks tester’ was a real job title and now it’s what I do!

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? Food and drink is such a vast industry, meaning it’s hard to know where to begin. So, my biggest piece of advice is to really think about what you most enjoy as a consumer. Is it a particular culture’s food or a specific type of content? From there, you can start digging into the brands leading in that space and reach out to people you admire to find out what they’re looking for. I found connecting with people hugely helpful when looking for jobs because it gave me some really clear, actionable pointers. If you can, offer to help out with odd jobs and smaller projects – any experience is good experience to get your foot in the door.

What’s your ultimate career dream? If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s the beauty of going with the flow and seeing what happens. I didn’t even know my job title existed a few years ago, and now I’m a proud food & drink tester and having an absolute ball doing it every day! Something I’d like to tap into more as I progress through my career is sustainability – I have a particular passion for pollinators and the key role they play within the food industry. I’d like to make the industry as kind as possible to them. Ultimately, one day, I would love to have my own written work bound and published as a physical copy, be it a cookbook or a thesis.

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