Wednesday, September 02, 2009

My visit to General Mills

Last week General Mills invited around 50 bloggers to come visit their corporate headquarters. I was a little wary. After all, I'm not a big consumer of packaged foods, but the lure of seeing the test kitchens and photo studio proved incentive enough, and I was in!
Mill City
The evening I arrived there was a welcome reception and dinner at the Mill City Museum. The museum has terrific interactive exhibits about the mill, and there was also lots of early advertising and packaging from Pillsbury and Gold Medal brands. I particularly liked seeing the ruins of the old factory and dramatic views from the observation deck, that really give you a feel for the history of the city and how important milling was.
Test Kitchens
The next day bright and early,we headed to the test kitchens. They have 16 stations and test and develop 2000 recipes a year! Not all the test kitchen staff was present, but I was told they have about 15 employees. It was a dream kitchen, light and airy with huge glass windows looking out on the manicured landscaping. I can't imagine a nicer space to work on recipes. If I worked at General Mills, those kitchens would spoil me so I'd never want to cook at home, ever again.
Creamy Tomato Basil Soup
In terms of the products, I can't say I fell head-over-heels in love with anything. I just don't eat much cold cereal or snack food, (products which Michael Pollan likes to call "food like substances" due to how processed they are). My favorite product was probably the Progresso Creamy Tomato Basil soup. It had very few ingredients, a fresh basil and tomato flavor and pleasing texture.

Though I buy imported Italian tomatoes for sauce, I also buy Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes because they are very consistent and add a terrific smoky flavor to soups, stews and sauces. I learned that Muir Glen is planting some heirloom varieties of tomatoes and handpicking them for limited edition cans. I can't wait to try them when they become later this year. If you're interested in heirloom canned tomatoes too, join the "Tomato Connoisseurs Club."

Overall I was impressed with how General Mills is clearly responding to consumers demand for products that are organic, gluten-free, and with no artificial flavors and colors. I told them I wasn't even interested in trying anything made with sucralose, to me it leaves a nasty aftertaste. And while it was too sweet for me, the Cascadian Farm organic dark chocolate granola was an interesting product introduction. I suggested they consider cocoa nibs instead of dark chocolate, you never know, it could happen...

Next up--a visit to the photo lab...