Courtesy of Matt Longman

So, that new job.

I have been hired at Sugar Mountain, LLC, to be the new product development manager.  Sugar Mountain is the parent company of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Maximus Minimus, Pasta & Co., and Bennett’s Pure Food Bistro. It also runs the Flagship Foundation, a non-profit designed to empower children to learn about and begin making healthy food choices.

Product development and research and development (r&d) are names of a general career field that I’ve spent the last three years working to join.  In the food industry, it is the job that often combines food science, biology, chemistry, physics, and culinary arts as well as business management and marketing.  Since joining Sugar Mountain in August, I’ve tapped into my knowledge of each of those disciplines and a few others.  I’ve actually applied many of the skills from the variety of jobs I’ve had, and it’s been interesting to see this job as a culmination of all the roles I’ve had in the past. It also feels a little bit like substantiation that my ridiculously windy, out-of-the-box path might actually have worked out.

My number one responsibility is to taste, eat, and modify the famous World’s Best Macaroni and Cheese.  Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is a vital business, and the Mac & Cheese is a significant product.  We’re constantly tweaking the recipe, because we don’t think it can ever be absolutely perfect, but we’re striving to get darn close. I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading about the science behind cheese – the melting, the rheaology, the stretch, and the flavor contribution of the different types of cheeses. I’ve also looked at how other ingredients in our famous Flagship sauce contribute to the overall cheese flavor. I’ve examined how starches interact with liquids when heated, what the necessary temperatures are to achieve complete starch gelatinization (swelling), the effects of fat and acid on starch thickened sauces. It’s so fun. Really. I love it. I just read a Power Point Presentation from OSU’s Food Technology department about starches.

I also have oversight of the other frozen food items and packaged foods that we sell in our stores or to other distributors for their grocery stores. This includes ensuring quality, accuracy in labeling, well designed packaging, etc. I work really closely with the marketing and wholesale departments to make sure they have the products they need to sell. I get to do (controlled) sales negotiations, business planning, sales projections, marketing, developing, tasting, cooking, costing, and talking. Yes, this is definitely a job I’m enjoying!

One significant difference between my new company and past employers is the company’s culture.  It started as a small business with core team members who have grown it to where it is today.  In a previous job, I had a boss who talked about building a culture of family, and I felt like we had some elements of family. But this job really does feel more family-like – maybe because I am in close proximity more often than colleagues were in my other jobs.  It seems like a closely knit group of people who work together and who celebrate together.  There’s a spirit of equal share, equal gain that I’ve witnessed from the “top” down. I say “top” because there lacks a distinctive hierarchical structure that is typical in corporations. It is a nice working culture, but it might also evolve into something else as the corporation grows.

Last week, we had a team meeting, called a lunch huddle, where most of the people in the main office and several managers of stores from around Seattle gathered for a meal as well as a touch-base meeting. It wasn’t the same as our weekly flight meetings when I was in Texas. We talked as peers – not just as equal managers of our departments but as peers who were working together to achieve the same goal but using our varied skills. It was so interesting. Everyone had a voice – and everyone was given 30-45 seconds to voice an opinion – even when one disagreed with Kurt. It was so interesting and so different from what I”d been used to.

I work with a dairy scientist who has an incredible background who also agrees that his different jobs seem to have led him to this position.  It’s been really nice to have another freshman member of the team with whom to share experiences…and get lost together.  He and his wife moved here from AZ, and we’ve really enjoyed getting to know them. He’s been developing a cheese tasting panel (I’m on the panel), and it’s been so educational. We’re developing our taste for different flavor qualities in foods, and we’re learning to identify what our ideal Flagship cheese is. Yah, it’s so tough.

My lunch…every day

So, I eat Mac & Cheese at my job, and I work with different departments to create a delicious product. I’m not complaining yet!
Well, my jeans might be…