20th Annual Deli Changemakers Award Winner: Olu Diyaolu

Chief Research, Development and Sustainability Officer
Sabra Dipping Company
South Chesterfield, VA

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing and how it has shaped you?

I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, by a single mother, and was the oldest of three kids. I was blessed with an upbringing where I acquired both street and classroom experiences. My mother sparked my first exposure to science and ingredient functionality as a pharmacist. I was fascinated with the creation and chemical compound breakdown of medicines such as ibuprofen.

From as young as I can remember, my mother also exposed me to the magic of creation in the kitchen. It amazed me how she could use 10 similar ingredients to make different types and flavors of meals, yet no one else could replicate those delicious meals exactly the same. Later in life, I realized it was all about the order of addition for these ingredients, the processing time, and the techniques used that influenced the flavor experience one could create. This has been one of my driving approaches to innovation development throughout my career.

Q. What were some of the pivotal moments in your early life that led you to where you are today?

On a personal level, I always had a passion for experiencing food from different cultures, but initially, my career aspirations were driven by a desire to make a difference in the oil and gas industry. My exposure to food happened during college while looking for an internship at a NSBE conference. There, I physically ran into someone coming out of the restroom and spilled the contents of my resume folder all over the floor. He bent down to help me pick up my papers when he noticed my chemical engineering major, and asked if I had stopped by their company booth (Kraft Foods). Until that moment, I had no idea this was a possible career path. I spent several hours speaking with the R&D team, got an offer on the spot, and the rest is history!

Q. How has your career evolved over the years?

I completed two internships at Kraft Foods, and after graduating, I transitioned into a full-time role as associate product scientist in the cheese and dairy division. I advanced my career within the organization over a period of 14 years, leading several innovation, quality improvement and process development initiatives across products like Kraft American Singles, Velveeta, Cottage Cheese, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Cheddar, Pimento and Mozzarella Shreds.

In 2015, I joined Dean Foods to lead the R&D team and managed all technical services projects across 62 plants. From there, I joined Planterra to create and lead the science and technology team. This work, following years of experience in larger organizations, was a fantastic precursor to a leadership role on the Sabra team.

Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?

To stay true to myself and never compromise my core values. In a world where we are always pressured to conform to societal expectations, staying true to my values, beliefs and passions is crucial.

Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?

I do not have a strict work/life separation, as I can ideate on what I can differentiate in my work life through the experiences I am exposed to in my personal life. My family and I love to travel and experience different cultures and foods, and we always set time aside to do this with our two young daughters.

Q. What deli retail trends have impacted the industry most over the last year?

There are a few trends that continue to rise such as online shopping, on-the-go snacking and convenience in general. Other trends we are seeing are the desire for bold flavors. Our latest collaborations with Franks RedHot and Stubb’s BBQ-Inspired Hummus are good examples of how we can take a trusted classic favorite and adapt it to meet the evolving desires of consumers.

Q. What book, movie, or event has impacted you personally or professionally?

Fatherhood! Becoming a parent has taught me so much about how to best be present and raise my beautiful girls to be confident and wholesome kids. It’s so mind-opening to view the world through their eyes.

Q. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?

My wife and I are blessed with two super curious girls (7 and 5). My time outside work is spent with the family exposing the kids to puzzle experiences, sports, exploration and local travels.


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