John Mitchell obituary

Other Lives: Food scientist who used his knowledge to create products from breakfast cereals to pet food

My father, John Mitchell, who has died aged 75, was the founder of Carbohydrate Polymers, a scientific journal which grew from humble roots to become one of the publisher Elsevier’s lead journals. John recognised the need for this much-needed outlet for research into polysaccharide science – the branch of food technology focused on the carbohydrates found most often in plants, algae and micro-organisms

Born in north London, the son of Albert Mitchell, who was in charge of general election campaigns for the Conservative party, and Marjorie (nee Woodcock), a homemaker, John attended the Haberdasher’s Aske’s school for boys, followed by Newcastle University, where he read physics. He married a fellow student, Susan Simpson, in 1967 and they raised three children. They divorced in 1988.

John’s first job was at Unilever, where he played a key role in developing the formula for Quavers crisps. At Unilever, he discovered a deep interest in food technology and left to study for his PhD at Nottingham University in 1970.

At Nottingham, John was appointed a lecturer, reader and in 1993 professor of food technology, latterly emeritus. Described by his colleague Christopher Gregson as “the Patrick Moore of the food materials science world”, John was an engaging teacher. Undergraduates relished lectures as John walked across the dais with, say, one foot stuck in a wastepaper bin, or trying in vain to put his hands in the pockets of his inside-out lab-coat. Before his inaugural lecture, colleagues had to attach multiple safety pins to stop his academic gown from falling off.

In 2005 he was a founding member of the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence (EPNOE), a platform for sharing research and expertise. In 2008 John was awarded the Food Hydrocolloids Trust Medal, a recognition of influential knowledge leaders in the food material science area. In setting up global research networks, John was grateful to be able to travel widely and valued the strong friendships he built with colleagues around the world.

In 2003, he set up his own company, Biopolymer Solutions, to provide scientific consultancy services to manufacturers across the pharmaceutical, biomaterials and ingredients sectors. John enjoyed helping both small and large companies. He used his knowledge to create products ranging from novel breakfast cereals to gelled pet foods.

A true polymath, John played chess for London and Hertfordshire and later for Leicestershire. He was an active member of Loughborough Chess Club for 50 years and was committed to helping the development of junior chess players. He loved music, playing the piano and clarinet, and travelling widely with his second wife, Margaret (nee Hill), whom he married in 1993. He knew everything about politics and economics. A kind and generous man, with a strong social conscience, he always went out of his way to help people.

He is survived by Margaret, his children, Hugh, Rose and me, and his granddaughters, Tess and Juliette.

Johanna Mitchell

The GuardianTramp

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