After two years at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and parent company Sugar Mountain, I have moved to the Product Innovation team at Lundberg Family Farms, a family-owned rice farm and mill in Chico, CA.
Chico is 90 miles north of Sacramento and is surrounded alternately by almond (and other nut) trees and rice paddies. It sits next to the Oroville Reservoir, which gets its water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Chico is home to a Smuckers plant, Sierra Nevada beer, Chico Bags, and Kleen Kanteen.
I accepted the position of Co-pack Developer with an emphasis of managing the relationships we have with current and potential co-packers, companies who use our recipes and products to make finished products that we don’t have the machinery to make.
I joined the team at a really unique time. Both of the current team members left for other experiences, and I was looking for a food manufacturer who had products in food categories I haven’t worked with. They were looking for someone with a culinary background who could handle the commercialization process – the steps that are taken to convert a recipe from a smaller size (think in servings of 20-50) to larger scale (think enough for grocery stores to carry). It has so far worked out really nicely.
Now, the unusual element of this new job is that Joshua has stayed in Seattle in order to continue his training as a sales person at REI, a premium outdoor activity supply company. The store’s manager where he works invests in her higher achieving team members and helps develop their brand knowledge and leadership skills, with the hope that a few of them will develop into department and store general managers. He is in such a great store that it makes little sense to move him from that to an area with very little opportunity with the skills he has now. Assuming he is chosen to manage a store in the future, he will be able to take on a leadership role at a store close to my workplace. So, for the time being, Josh has stayed in our condo in Seattle, and I rent a room from a friendly and generous couple in Chico. I also fly back to Seattle as often as we can afford.
You might recognize Lundberg Family Farms. We started buying more of their products once Joshua transitioned completely to a gluten free diet. And we can probably blame my mom for my Rice Chip ADDICTION (yes, in caps). My mom had purchased LFF Rice Chips – Sesame Seaweed for us during one of our early Christmas visits, and we were pretty much hooked. Thicker and heartier than the average chip, LFF Rice Chips are made from a mixture of rice and corn flour and have rice kernels in the chips. They’re really filling and have an enjoyable crunch, and I’ve eaten enough of the chips to make a meal on occasion.
Lundberg Family Farms was founded in 1937, when the original Lundbergs – Albert and Frances – moved their family of four sons from Nebraska to California. They founded their farm and quickly began developing farming practices that they felt were more responsible to their fields and less harsh than the use of pesticides and excessive use of fertilizers, practices that were common in post-war farmland. Eventually, they decided to open their own rice mill, because they didn’t want their carefully cultivated rice to be mixed in with all the other rice. This really established their farm as a source for high quality, California-grown rice, and multiple farmers have joined the Lundberg farms because they also agree with the farming practices. Each farmer retains ownership of their lands and sell their rice in a cooperative setting.
What really drew me to Lundberg Family Farms was the high quality products and offerings. They
just completed a really large launch of new products and were showing zero signs of slowing down. I really liked the hiring manager and her boss, the VP of R&D. I also was drawn to the idea of working in California. It was also helpful that their primary product was naturally gluten-free, so Josh could finally eat some of the items I worked on.
I also have an insatiable interest in food manufacturing and factories. It’s probably somewhat related to the factory work that my dad in China. Bible-printing factories are not the same as rice bagging machines, but the large scale and the beehive-like feeling is comparable.
There’s also this connection through my grandfather, Charles King, who worked for General Mills and developed some of the products that are literally household items today. It’s sort of like walking in his footsteps, but it’s more like exploring the food industry from the inside. I feel that changing our everyday items – cereals, sides, and quick-meals – is a way to impact the nutritional health of our nation. It’s one of the reason that I love doing what I do.
I’ve been with Lundberg since July and am loving it! I hope you get a chance to try some of the products – we have some really cool new items coming soon!
Photos and description of the brand have been taken from the Lundberg Family Farms website – www.lundberg.com.