Monday, May 6, 2013

Ramen Noodles, Mac & Cheese, Cereal, and Peanut Butter

College students have some standards. When it comes to eating cheaply, they know all about the staples that can tide you over when you have about $1.73 to your name until the next paycheck/care package/free cookie offer finally shows up.

The classics are noted at the bottom of that pyramid: Ramen Noodles, EasyMac. Of course, there are also things not noted like cereal, peanut butter, soup, and hot dogs.What do these food manufacturers have in common? Careers! Look at the list of positions you might be interested to know more about in the food industry:

Research and Development (creating and testing new products)
Engineering (yes, engineering-I have seen a reference to 'food engineering' a number of times)
Flavor chemists (I did not make that up) to test products for flavor and aroma
Food Safety
Packaging design
Marketing and sales
Production Line and supervising the production line
Quality Control
Accounting; company stock; communicating with shareholders
Legal advisors
Consumer product evaluations (taste tests and their results)

Models of wheat molecules

Let's think about a few of these careers:

Someone working in the food manufacturing industry will have had plenty of science in his or her background and education: Chemistry/chemical engineering, physics, biology, computer science, and also psychology, economics, social studies.

Food manufacturers need people to ensure their production facility is handling the food safely. Our government has standards in place that food manufacturers must obey. There are careers both in food inspection and in the plants where food is made to be sure it's handled safely.

 Carrot Cells

Food manufacturers employ dietitians and nutritionists. These employees look at the ingredients in the foods and assure the food labels are accurate (calories, carbs, etc.). If the manufacturer seeks to produce something that could be deemed 'healthy' or 'light,' or if it is an entire company based on 'health foods,' recipes need to include some things and exclude others. Have you noticed how, as people become more aware of a particular 'food fad,' it is reflected in foods we've had for years? Think 'whole grain' Alpha-Bits or 'anti-oxidant cranberries' in Great Grains cereal.

Changing the form of food into cereal, fruit bites, chips, or other pieces requires engineering of the ingredients, including what to add to the food to make it stay fresh. You might work on the food itself. Otherwise, you might be an engineer who could build a machine to use to produce that product.

What about marketing the product? You might design a cereal box, which might involve drawing, designing a logo, or taking photos: Think of the Wheaties box with the Olympic medalists. Learning about marketing will let you see which colors typically attract people more (red and yellow), which lettering, what size parts of the ad or the container should be.

Someone who works with statistics could determine future buying trends by recognizing what people want to buy. You might work directly with the manufacturer of the food or for a company that does research including polls and taste tests to record the results. Or, you might work on existing products to see what is selling and what is not.

If someone asked you to describe a box of Cheerios, you would probably think immediately of the yellow overall color of the box and the classic lettering of the name. The same is true for Coke (all red with classic lettering) and Campbell's Soups (top half white, bottom half red, gold 'medal' in the center). You can picture the basic packaging with no problem, right? Someone designed that years ago, and it's still the way they package that product. Slogans that stick with a product for years also help with customer recognition: "The best part of waking up is Folger's in your cup" or "M&Ms melt in your hand, not in your mouth or "The Incredible, Edible Egg" are all phrases that help sell products.

You might be involved in writing commercials that appear on television. You may design the entire ad, or may work with computer graphics or with humans who will 'act' in the ads. These usually involve music as well. Can you remember the 'theme' to Rice-A-Roni? Klondike Bars? "My bologna has a first name..."? And by the way, you're welcome: now one of those is going to stay in your head the rest of the day.

Accountants will be needed in the food industry, as will legal advisors in terms of product liability (we hope nobody finds a mouse in their bottle of ketchup, but you never know) and in case of mergers with other companies.

What do these foods have in common?


These foods are all manufactured by Minnesota-based companies: Barrel O'Fun, Hormel, Pearson Candy, Haagen-Dazs, Green Giant, Totino, Yoplait, and General Foods. Minnesota is also home to Schwan's, Progresso Soup, and Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants (these are subsidiaries of General Foods).

Consider a career in the food industry---you never know what you're going to get.

"Health food may be good for the conscience, but Oreos taste a lot better."
-Robert Redford

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