When Francisco Parada-Rabell learned of an engineering degree that would allow him to “play with food,” he knew it was a path he wanted to take. His grandfather – a strong and early influence – was a chemical engineer who spent his career in the food industry, including serving as the general manager of a chocolate factory. Francisco’s grandmother often took him and the other grandchildren to visit. “We would eat chocolate out of the line,” Francisco remembers.
That sweet memory is one of the reasons Francisco has always been drawn to engineering – and to food. Another is the array of flavors that comes from the state of Oaxaca, southwest of Mexico City, where Francisco’s family is from.
“… In my opinion [it] is the best Mexican food, not only because of its variety, but also the different flavor profiles. So, I grew up with all these different flavors during family gatherings and just enjoying great-tasting food,” he says.
A doctor of food science, Francisco joined CytoSport, Inc. in 2016 as director of beverage innovation. In addition to managing, formulating and commercializing the successful Muscle Milk® and CytoSport™ brands, he is responsible for the formulation of the Evolve™ ready-to-drink line. The unique plant-based protein drink has only 11 simple ingredients, is shelf stable and packs 20 grams of protein per serving. “And it’s delicious,” Francisco adds.
That’s a deal breaker. “Flavor has to be there,” he says. To ensure he delivers on that promise, he consults an expert: his 2-year-old son, Santiago. “We’re having a hard time incorporating protein into his diet,” Francisco says. “But he loves Evolve™ in chocolate.”
Santiago is no different from any of us, Francisco maintains. Flavor is of paramount importance. “It not only brings people good memories, there are some neurotransmitters that are released in your body when you eat comfort food,” he says.
Giving Evolve™ products to his children is part and parcel of the attitude Francisco brings to work every day; one that allows him to keep consumers at the heart of what he does. “I wouldn’t work on something that I wouldn’t serve to my kids,” he says.
That’s a common theme at CytoSport and its parent company, Hormel Foods.
“There’s a lot of research that goes behind what we do, and it all starts with the consumer. For example, baby boomers might not like the same flavor profiles as Gen Xers or millennials. So, we start by identifying the flavor profiles that our consumers prefer, and then we build a product that delivers not only functionality, but the macronutrients they need to achieve their specific goals and objectives,” he says.
I am what I am because of education.Francisco Parada-Rabell
Francisco loves the journey of discovery. A lifelong student, he credits education for allowing him to blossom into the man he is today.
“I am what I am because of education,” he says. “This kid out of Mexico City, born and raised in a middle-class family – borderline poor – climbed up the social ladder, going from scholarship to scholarship, making it to where I am because of education.”
For starters, he learned about a field of study called food engineering, the perfect marriage of his love of chemical engineering and food. In addition to the science and math required for all engineering students, the major added biology and chemistry. He found it fascinating.
Francisco earned his bachelor’s degree from the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City. Though he was the top engineer of his class, “I just had this sense of not knowing anything.” At the same time, his mother encouraged him to “go out there, travel and maybe get … a higher-education degree.” So, Francisco decided to continue with his schooling.
“And to my surprise, I got myself another scholarship that allowed me to start a master’s degree at The Ohio State University (OSU). And that was probably the best decision I could have made in my life,” he says.
At OSU, Francisco again finished at the top of his class. He also was the first Latin-American student in the history of the food science and technology department to be awarded a direct transfer of his master’s studies to a doctoral degree.
After the successful completion of his graduate studies at OSU and while working as a research associate at the Ohio State University Food Industries Center, Francisco accepted a product development position with Flavor Infusion, a company dedicated to the global beverage industry. Before joining the Hormel Foods family, Francisco was responsible for the successful launch of more than 250 formulations, including dairy, plant-based proteins, carbonated soft drinks, functional beverages, teas and juice-based drinks from bench top to market.
The Right Taste
From the start, Francisco has leaned heavily on his scientific training without discounting the importance of art and creativity.
“Beverage development relies to a great degree on having the ability to identify the right taste. The science comes in because you have to make sure that the product you are developing is safe to consume, is consistent from product to product and from lot to lot, and will stay stable during its shelf life. So, it requires a deep understanding of not only the ingredients going into that system, but the interaction between those elements and how they will behave over the course of the shelf life.”
Having and applying the knowledge is one of the reasons he is adamant that “big food” – that is, food that is produced and distributed by large companies – can be good food. It’s safe, consistent and readily available, and those are no small things, he insists.
“We’re living in an exciting era when people have instant access to information. One of the biggest trends right now is to have a food item that is minimally processed, but it has to be consistent and taste great,” Francisco says.
With that in mind, the Evolve™ brand is firing on all cylinders. Yet, for Hormel Foods, it’s a journey that doesn’t end.
“You have to stay thirsty for education and keep learning in order to achieve great things,” he offers, which is not to say there is no time to sit back and savor the moment of a job well done.
“It makes me feel proud when I see someone throw Evolve™ products in the cart.”