Confectioner

The Job and What's Involved

Confectioners make sweets and chocolates. There are two main job roles - sugar confectioner and chocolatier.

Sugar confectioners make products such as boiled sweets, lollies, toffees and jelly sweets. They control and monitor equipment that:

  • Weighs, measures and mixes ingredients.
  • Heats the mixture to a controlled temperature.
  • Pours the mixture into moulds.
  • Uses compressed air to blast the cooled and shaped sweets out of the moulds.

They also use measuring and testing equipment, such as refractometers, to test product consistency and quality.

Chocolatiers make chocolate bars, chocolate assortments (chocolates with filled centres), Easter eggs and other speciality items. Chocolate is a difficult material to work with, making this a highly-skilled job.

Chocolate making is a long process that begins with cocoa beans being processed to produce cocoa mass, which is the basis for chocolate products. The cocoa mass is then blended with sugar (and milk in the case of milk chocolate). The texture and flavour of chocolate is determined by the amount of fat it contains and by the size of the particles of cocoa, fat and sugar that make up the product.

Chocolatiers use two processes - conching and tempering - to produce chocolate with the right flavour, appearance and texture. This is carried out using specialist machinery. Chocolatiers then use the tempered chocolate in:

Moulds - to make bars of solid chocolate.

The enrobing process - sweet centres, such as caramels or marzipan, pass through a curtain of chocolate on a conveyor belt to be covered.

Panning - hard centres, such as peanuts, are rolled in a revolving pan in order to be coated with layers of chocolate.

In large factories these processes are highly automated. However, the same basic processes are used by small firms or individuals making handcrafted products.

A very high standard of cleanliness and hygiene is essential in confectionery making. Increasingly, manufacturers have to consider the health implications of their products, and there is now a greater emphasis on using natural, additive-free ingredients.

In large companies, confectioners and chocolatiers work closely with production assistants, packaging staff, quality controllers and other technical specialists.

Sugar confectioners are usually based in factories and work 37 to 40 hours a week. Shift work is common and often includes weekends. Chocolatiers working in specialist shops work similar hours. They often need to work overtime during busy periods, such as Easter and Christmas.

The working environment is often warm and may be noisy. Confectioners spend much of their time on their feet, moving around the production area. They wear overalls and head coverings when making their products.

At senior levels, the work may involve travel.

Starting salaries for confectioners may be around £10,000 to £12,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The confectionery market in the UK is worth more than £2 billion and employs over 56,000 people. It is dominated by three companies - Nestlé, Cadbury Schweppes and Mars, although there are also smaller, independent firms.

Overall, numbers employed in the confectionery industry are declining due to increased automation and the transfer of production facilities abroad. However, there is a growing market for handmade high-quality products, and small businesses have been set up to cater for this demand. As well as 'over the counter' sales to the public, these small firms often sell through websites, as well as directly to outlets such as sweet shops and delicatessens.

Jobs are advertised in Confectionery Production, on company websites and in the local press.

Education and Training

There are three main entry routes:

As a production assistant - there are no set entry requirements, although GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in maths and science subjects are useful. Science subjects are important for career progression.

As an employed apprentice undertaking either an Apprenticeship or Advanced Apprenticeship in Food Manufacturing.

After taking a degree or HNC/HND in food science, food studies, food technology or a related subject. Entry qualifications usually include chemistry or biology at A level/H grade. Two science subjects may be required for some courses. Entry requirements may vary, so candidates should check with individual colleges or universities.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Much of the training takes place on the job. This may be supplemented by external courses, for example at:

Leeds Thomas Danby College - which offers a BTEC National Certificate in Food Science and Manufacturing Technology (with Chocolate and Sugar Technology options). This course is offered on a part-time basis over two years. Students typically have relevant experience, although the course is also suitable for those who want to start their own business, or to enter employment in chocolate making or sugar confectionery.

Leatherhead Food International - which offers short courses (aimed mainly at those with some experience in the food industry) in sugar confectionery production and chocolate confectionery production.

It is also possible to attend courses abroad, with the following organisations teaching some courses in English:

Central College of the German Confectionery Industry ZDS in Solingen, which runs an eight-week practical course in chocolate and sugar confectionery, as well as short courses, seminars and conferences.

Barry Callebaut Institute, which runs 'chocolate academies' in Belgium and several other countries, as well as the UK, providing training for craft workers and industrial chocolate processors.

Self-study modules, for people already working in the industry, are available through CABATEC, which runs modules covering topics such as sugar confectionery, chocolate manufacture, and chocolate enrobing and moulding.

NVQ's/SVQ's in Food and Drink Manufacturing Operations are available at Levels 1 to 3. College courses in catering, cookery and patisserie may also cover some aspects of chocolate making and sugar confectionery.

A new series of courses that mixes e-learning with traditional classroom study is currently being developed by the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Manufacturing.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Confectioners need to:

  • Have nimble fingers.
  • Have a high standard of personal cleanliness and tidiness.
  • Be able to work well with others in a team.
  • Be prepared to follow instructions.
  • Have patience.
  • Be prepared to spend long periods of time on their feet.
  • Have good business skills, if self-employed.

Your Long Term Prospects

In large companies there are opportunities to move into related areas such as quality control, quality assurance, and health and safety management. It is also possible to progress into general management. Gaining further qualifications may help promotion prospects.

Some chocolatiers set up their own shops, while others may move on to work for manufacturers of specialist chocolate making machinery.

Get Further Information

Barry Callebaut Institute. Wildmere Road Industrial Estate,
Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 3UU
Tel: 01295 224700
Website: www.barry-callebaut.com

Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Association (BCCCA),
6 Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JJ
Tel: 020 7420 7200
Website: www.bccca.org.uk

Central College of the German Confectionery Industry ZDS
Website: www.zds-solingen.de

Improve Limited, Ground Floor, Providence House,
2 Innovation Close, Heslington, York YO10 5ZF.
Tel: 0845 644 0448
Website: www.improveltd.co.uk

Leatherhead Food International,
Randalls Road, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 7RY
Tel: 01372 376761
Website: www.leatherheadfood.com

The National Skills Academy for Food and Drink,
Ground Floor, Providence House, 2 Innovation Close, Heslington, York YO10 5ZF
Tel: 0845 644 0558
Website: www.nsafd.co.uk

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