After 45 years, ATC’s Mark Charlton’s enthusiasm for the science behind our industry remains undimmed
To the layman, much of what goes on in the laboratories of the Allied Technical Centre in Maidenhead is an alien world of food and scientific testing. Suffice to say, the small team operating from an unassuming building just off the M4 plays a key role in advancing the research which has helped power the modern flour milling and baking industry for over 75 years.
Mark Charlton, ATC’s Head of Cereals, Milling and Baking Science, has been an integral part of its operations for 45 of those years, and as such has seen many of those developments at first hand.
These include being part of the team credited with revolutionising cereal testing through the development of a Near-Infra-Red calibrations system. First released in 2004, this has now been adopted as standard by most of the industry.
Now in his 60s, Mark retains the same passion for the ATC’s work and achievements as he did when he first joined what was then Weston Research Labs back in 1977.
“It can seem like pretty complex stuff we do here,” he admits, “but essentially our role is to deliver support to the food industry through research into the science behind milling and baking, and applying that research.
“It can be unsung work at times, but it’s important and I’m very proud of the team and what we do.”
The history of ATC goes back to 1947, when Associated British Foods first set up its own research and development wing to assist food production in the post-war years. Its current incarnation dates back to 2002.
Mark first joined as a young scientific assistant after studying at college, and gained invaluable experience travelling as far afield as Canada, America and mainland Europe researching wheat quality for Allied Mills. He then took on a number of management roles within the organisation before being appointed to his current position.
“There have been some huge changes in the way we operate since I first started out – computerisation being one obvious one,” he says.
“But the biggest, I would say, has been the move away from the use of ‘wet chemistry’ to carry out analysis through to infra-red technology and now high-speed Near Infra-Red. That really has been a game-changer.”
For the last 28 years Mark has represented the flour milling industry on the Recommended List committee of AHDB. He stood down from the position just last month – but he gives short shrift to any suggestion that he is making plans for retirement any time soon.
His spare time, he says, is primarily taken up with gardening and the fortunes of his local rugby club, Reading Abbey RFC.
“I was never much of a rugby player myself, but my son Oliver still plays for them – and over the years I’ve become increasingly involved in the admin side of things, moving the club to a limited company in 2012 and for the past seven years acting as Finance Director, all of which is voluntary.”