Behind every box of cereal there are the people who initially come up with the recipe for it. Three of our Food Developers, Ed L., Technical Manager in Research Quality Nutrition & Technology, and Lead Food Developers, Azalenah S. and Vanija K., offer an inside look at the creativity, trend-spotting, and ideas that go into making new products to ensure each morning you have exactly what you want and need for breakfast.
What is the job of a food developer?
ED: I play with food for a living…and get paid for it, which is pretty cool.
AZALENAH: The job of a Food Developer is to bring ideas for new foods to life. We start with a concept and then move from idea to a visual. We need to think about what food will look, taste, smell and feel like. It is a great exercise for the creative side of your brain. Then we have to shift gears and work with food technologists and bakers/producers at our plants to turn it into thousands, or even millions, of boxes of cereal.
What sort of background or skills do you need for this role?
AZALENAH: We all have degrees in food, either in science or engineering. I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering from India followed by a master’s in food engineering from Purdue. Ed’s got a bachelor’s degree in food science from the University of New South Wales in Australia. Vanija has a master’s in food science from Alabama A&M University.
ED: You have to be curious and love exploring food. We both have a food science background. You need an analytical brain and have to understand the science or how to combine starches and proteins, but then you also need to be creative and willing to explore new ingredients and always try new things.
When did you decide to become a food developer?
VANIJA: For me, it was being in the kitchen with my grandmother. I sit with her watching her make all sorts of amazing foods from the simplest ingredients.
AZALENAH: I was always in the kitchen with my mother. That really helped develop a sense for loving food beyond just nourishment. For me, it is all the different aspects of food; not just taste‑ but look, smell, touch, all the five senses.
How do international trends and flavors affect your work?
ED: As a global company, we are creating new foods and recipes for many different cultures. As a team, we represent over 40 different countries. That brings a wonderful diversity of backgrounds with flavors from all around the world.
VANIJA: Many different backgrounds come into food science. We get to work with unique and interesting flavors and incorporate them into food—always challenging us to determine how we can make it more approachable and acceptable for consumers. We definitely take a global mindset but also have to be aware of regional taste differences around the US.
Can you give us a bit of insight on the product development process?
AZALENAH: Product Development begins and ends with consumers. As consumers’ lives becomes more complex and sophisticated, we want to develop products that meet these various needs—be it nutrition, health, lifestyle or convenience. The product development process starts with understanding the specific need that the new product would deliver to consumers. Once we understand the need, we design the food to then meet it with the right ingredients and preparations- just like people do at home but on a larger scale. We do this to get the right flavor, texture, aroma and appearance so that consumers will get the most enjoyment and healthy nutrition possible.
VANIJA: There is lots of testing; sensory testing. Quality testing. We are always trying different concepts and different flavors. Once we have a winner, we use that ingredient combo to move to in-home testing. Lucky for us, that means we get to try a lot of different food.
What is one of the latest projects that you developed?
ED: We are really excited about Origins. It is a relatively new cereal here in the United States but it’s modeled on similar raw grain, muesli cereals that are very popular in Europe.
AZALENAH: One of the unique challenges that we face is balancing the desire for new flavors with something that is familiar. For example, quinoa is becoming popular, but you can’t just toss quinoa into something and call it a day. You need to build a recipe around quinoa so that it is yummy and you’ll want to eat it again.
Why use ancient grains, like quinoa, in Origins?
AZALENAH: Consumers are looking for original, simpler foods and new flavors. Ancient grains are known for being closer to their original grains and are more flavorful, more complex and more nutritious. For example, quinoa is known as a good protein source.
ED: It’s more than quinoa too. Origins has a really interesting ingredient lineup that includes wholegrain brown rice, barley, kamut, spelt, and honey. We are bringing forward more taste of true grains and finding ways to have a nutritious diet with wholesome ingredients.
VANIJA: Consumers are getting more health conscious and they want foods like mueslis, which are a very pure blend of grains in a very recognizable way. Origins is an open book. You can see exactly what the grains are because they are in one of their most natural forms. But working with whole grains like kamut and barley was challenging. These ingredients have a great nutrition profile but we need to make sure that the final food draws out the flavor and that it tastes great.
What is your favorite ingredient in Origins?
ED: Definitely walnuts because they are rare in cereals. You don’t really see many walnuts in cereal--especially with no artificial preservatives.
VANIJA: For me, it’s quinoa. I really like the texture and the finished flavor. It gives you a wholesome feeling and has a great nutrition profile. Plus, when I see Origins on the shelf in the store, I always think, “aww…that’s my baby!”
AZALENAH: There’s rye and spelt, which are pretty unique as well. But, overall I’d say Kamut– adding an ancient grain that few consumers have even heard of, to a cereal that they eat every day, is pretty cool. We’re proud to have people think about ancient grains in a new way.