Vijay Sawant obituary

Other lives: Scientist who put his expertise into the technology used to design ice-creams

My partner’s father, Vijay Sawant, who has died aged 78, was an accomplished scientist who applied his skills and ingenuity to the design and manufacture of ice-creams – two of which, Cornetto and Magnum – are among the most popular of all time.

Over a 30-year career with Wall’s ice-cream in the UK, Vijay developed processes that were integral to the success not just of those two brands but a number of others, including the Raspberry Split and Sky Bar, the last two of which are no longer sold in the UK.

One of his 15 patents was for the technology that sprayed the inside of a Cornetto with chocolate, so that the cone’s characteristic crunch remained audible. He also fixed a problem that had caused the chocolate covering of the Magnum to crack at higher altitudes, and he helped to make the outer texture of the Raspberry Split more closely resemble an actual raspberry.

Through innovations such as these Vijay made a contribution to everyday happiness that he could perhaps not have provided through pure science, and he was more than satisfied to have done so.

Born in Bombay (now Mumbai), the third of six children of Arjun Sawant, a policeman, and his wife, Subhadra (nee Rane), he had a poor upbringing. But a gift for numbers offered an escape route, and after rudimentary schooling (he later blamed his shortsightedness on long hours of study under a street lamp), he was able to win a place at Bombay University, where he read physics and mathematics.

Wanting to further his education and see the world, he then applied for a British Ministry of Labour employment voucher, which allowed him to come to London.

Arriving in 1967 with a huge 46kg suitcase and £3 in his pocket – the most that Indian immigrants were allowed to carry and about all he had anyway – he worked as a laboratory assistant at Imperial College in London, and was then offered the chance of pursuing research in nuclear physics at University College London. However, at the same time he also spotted an advert in New Scientist magazine placed by Unilever, owner of Wall’s, for a process engineering assistant at its Colworth research centre in Bedfordshire, which intrigued him. He applied, got the job and started in 1969.

Later rising to become a scientist at Wall’s, he made a full recovery from heart surgery at 53 and took early retirement a few years later in 1999. He had an active later life that involved consultancy work and a lot of gardening and travel.

Vijay married Shaila Dalvi, a chemistry graduate and maths teacher, in 1971 after he had met her on a trip back home to Mumbai. Newly married after a three-week courtship, they settled in Stanwick, Northamptonshire, and were inseparable over the near-50 years of their partnership.

He is survived by Shaila and their children, Niteen and Kalpana.

Alex Lawler

The GuardianTramp

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