Gen­eral Mills em­ploy­ees taste test dif­fer­ent recipes

Eat­ing ce­real a se­ri­ous busi­ness

The Covington News - - Front page - By Gabriel Khouli gkhouli@cov­

Emer­ald Pabros is a finicky eater. When she sits down to eat a bowl of ce­real, ev­ery­thing has to be just right.

The room has to be quiet and free of dis­tract­ing odors. Light­ing is im­por­tant, be­cause she needs to see what she’s eat­ing. And she ob­vi­ously wants to taste her ce­real, so she makes sure to cleanse her pal­ette by drink­ing roomtem­per­a­ture wa­ter. She’s also de­cided she doesn’t need any milk.

Then she takes a sin­gle square of Cin­na­mon Toast Crunch and places it care­fully on one of the mo­lars on the right side of her mouth and bites down care­fully, feel­ing the piece crunch and sa­vor­ing the cin­na­mon good­ness.

Sure, her meth­ods seem strange, but she’s one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced ce­real eaters in the world.

“When we (peo­ple in gen­eral) eat, we’re like, “Yeah, that tastes great, I like it.” You don’t nec­es­sar­ily think about the specifics of tex­ture or how it tastes or the sweet­ness, and kind of pick­ing and iso­lat­ing those out from the rest of the qual­i­ties of the food you’re eat­ing.”

Pabros does, be­cause she’s a ce­real sci­en­tist and she’s paid to know what good tastes like. She’s a Sen­sory Qual­ity En­gi­neer at Gen­eral Mills’ pro­duc­tion plant in Cov­ing­ton.

“There is a sen­sory sci­ence. Peo­ple get PhDs in sen­sory sci­ence,” said Arnie Sair, Pabros’ su­per­vi­sor and the com­pany’s Qual­ity and Reg­u­la­tory Op­er­a­tions Man­ager.

One might think that eat­ing ce­real, of all jobs, would be a sim­ple task. One would be wrong.

“Even the way you chew it and place it in you mouth, where do you chew it? Where is it in your mouth, like on your tongue? Do you take a whole hand­ful and shove it in your mouth? Do you eat one or two pieces?” Pabros asked rhetor­i­cally. “Hav­ing con­sis­tency among grad­ing each of those sam­ples is im­por­tant.”

Pabros may be par­tic­u­lar about how she eats her ce­real, but at least she and her col­leagues are will­ing to share.

Gen­eral Mills is known for be­ing a great place to work. It hires qual­ity peo­ple and is com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing the com­mu­ni­ties in which it lo­cates. But most im­por­tantly, it’s be­cause the em­ploy­ees get to eat the ce­real. Who hasn’t al­ways wanted to be a taste tester?

Gen­eral Mills em­ploy­ees from all de­part­ments, from fi­nance to ware­hous­ing, are wel­come to be part of the team that me­thod­i­cally and sci­en­tif­i­cally tastes the var­i­ous ce­re­als churned out in Cov­ing­ton.

The sen­sory train­ing class isn’t that long, about an hour or two, and if they choose, em­ploy­ees can even make taste-test­ing a reg­u­lar part of their job.

The com­pany en­cour­ages work­ers to get in­volved, be­cause hav­ing peo­ple from ev­ery chain in the ce­real pro­duc­tion process brings more ex­per­tise to the ta­ble. So, on the rare oc­ca­sion where a ce­real’s taste may be off, a worker with a spe­cific depart­ment may be able to iden­tify more quickly if the prob­lem is oc­cur­ring in his di­vi­sion, said Pack­ag­ing Tech­ni­cian Car­los Miller, a taste-test­ing team leader.

Em­ploy­ees are given base­lines of taste, so they can tell when some­thing is truly sweet, sour, salty or bit­ter. They’re also given batches of ce­real that the com­pany has ap­proved, so they can train their taste buds to re­mem­ber that spe­cific fla­vor.

The big ques­tion for em­ploy­ees is, “Are you a flake, a puff or a Chex?” Sair’s a flake, while Pabros and Miller are puffs. Flakes in­clude ce­re­als like To­tal and Wheaties, while puffs are the Chee­rios’ and Kix’s. Chex are, well, Chex.

“If you think about a Chee­rios piece ver­sus a flake piece, the con­sumer is ob­vi­ously ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences, if you will, when they’re eat­ing those prod­ucts,” said Sair, who per­son­al­ity did not match his ce­real pref­er­ence.

“The flake, you want to make sure it has a good tex­ture to it and ev­ery­thing. The Chee­rios piece, you want to make sure you can re­ally pick out that good Chee­rios toast note to it. So there are go­ing to be some dif­fer­ences depend­ing on what prod­uct you’re sam­pling.”

In the end, though, tastetest­ing is a way to bring the com­pany to­gether and en­sure ev­ery­one can take pride in the fi­nal prod­uct.

“Ob­vi­ously, tast­ing the best ce­re­als on the mar­ket is a good job, but for me it’s ac­tu­ally the pride that I take in it. I go into our lo­cal gro­cery stores, and I see the moms with the kids pick­ing out our ce­re­als, and I find my­self look­ing at the la­bels to see if we made it or not,” Miller said. “And you have that feel­ing that they’re get­ting the qual­ity ce­real that they ex­pect from Gen­eral Mills and that it tastes good too. And that I had some­thing to do with that is just a re­ally good feel­ing for me.”

Oh, and did we men­tion they get to eat the ce­real? They have Cin­na­mon Toast Crunch peo­ple.

“I think it’s ev­ery­body’s (fa­vorite), be­cause it’s def­i­nitely mine. Even tast­ing it ev­ery day, a lot of peo­ple say, ‘Oh do you get sick of it?’ And hon­estly? No. Like on the week­ends, I’ll find my­self pour­ing a bowl with milk and say­ing ‘Oh, this is so awe­some.’ It’s great, I’ve been eat­ing it my whole life, since I was grow­ing up, so it’s def­i­nitely my fa­vorite,” Pabros said.

Sair is more of an Oat­meal Raisin Crisp, but he re­al­izes he’s out­num­bered.

“I can’t deny that Cin­na­mon Toast Crunch is a pow­er­house at Gen­eral Mills, so we make a lot of that prod­uct,” he said.

We think be­ing a Gen­eral Mills taste tester is one of the coolest jobs in Newton County. Do you think your job is cool or know some­one else who has a great job? Con­tact Re­porter Gabriel Khouli at gkhouli@cov­ or call(678) 750-5009, so we can share more sto­ries about work­ing in Newton County.

Gabriel Khouli/The Cov­ing­ton News

The brains be­hind break­fast: Gen­eral Mills em­ploy­ees sam­ple new recipes for Gen­eral Mills’ ce­real to en­sure that only the tasti­est brands make it to store shelves.

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