How sweet it is
When The Hershey Company has a research and development puzzle that requires an external partner, they turn to Stephen Crozier to help find a solution.
Crozier, who grew up in Moncton, NB, is the chocolate titan’s manager of research and development partnerships and better-for-you technology development. At its most basic, his role is troubleshooting — but resolving food-related challenges is often very complex.
“Food is such a funny thing. It’s an integral part of our daily lives and yet we often take for granted that it’s surprisingly complex. Where, how, and when ingredients are grown, harvested, and processed can all impact flavour, texture, and functionality,” Crozier says.
“A lot of what we are doing now is looking at energy intensive processes and seeing if we can use less water and less energy. That seems like it would be an easy decision to make, but not if it changes the product or results in a higher cost that the consumer is unwilling to accept.”
Crozier’s path to his current role was a winding one. After completing his honours biochemistry degree at Mount Allison, he went on to earn a Master of Science in Medical Molecular Genetics at the University of Aberdeen and a PhD in Physiology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.
Crozier distinguished himself as a researcher, winning American Heart Association and National Institutes of Health grants and publishing a number of studies related to physiology and nutrition. By 2008, he and his wife, Nicole, who is a physician, were living in Ann Arbor, MI with their first child. When she received a too-good-to-pass-up job offer in her home community, they decided to make the move back to Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, the move coincided with the 2008 recession and academic job opportunities were hard to come by. Then Crozier got a call from Hershey.
“I thought it was a joke at first,” he says. “But someone from The Hershey Company had worked with someone who was a post-doc while I was doing my PhD and they passed my name on.”
At the time the company had a substantial clinical nutrition program, funding research projects to study potential nutritional benefits of cacao. His six-month contract turned into an additional year, then a full-time position as a research scientist. He returned to academia briefly in 2018, but rejoined Hershey in 2020 in his current role.
“I think mine is truly a story of being willing and embracing the ability to pivot. Nothing of this went as planned, even in my undergrad,” he says, noting his original intention had been to become a physiotherapist. “(Chemistry professors) Steve Westcott and Jack Stewart put me on this path — they made research fun and they talked to me and said, ‘Maybe a PhD is for you.’ When I went into my undergrad, I didn’t even know there was a thing called food science.”
The “better-for-you” part of Crozier’s title is becoming an increasingly important part of his job. Some consumers are looking for products with less sugar, for example, but taking the sugar out of sweets isn't easy.
“If you have a full-sugar pop, you can take it out and put in high-intensity sugar, but you can't do that with chocolate or candy because the sugar has a structural role — if you take it out, what do you put back in?” Crozier explains.
While most people immediately think “chocolate” when they hear Hershey, Crozier notes the company also owns several salty snack brands and one of his current challenges is exploring alternatives to sunflower oil.
“Much of the world’s sunflower oil comes out of Ukraine,” he says. “It’s important we stay ahead and have ingredient alternatives for external factors beyond our control. You have to be willing to ask questions in this role.”