Breakfast at the General Mills offices met and surpassed my wildest expectations, with a massive cereal bar and other delicious treats. Lunch was an equally elaborate affair, of surprisingly delicious savory food involving cereal. From Chex-crusted chicken nuggets to broccoli casserole with crushed Kix, the folks at the Betty Crocker Test Kitchen have found unique ways to use cereal as an ingredient. Recipes included Chex chicken nuggets, Peanut Butter Toast Crunch treats and the Cereal Milk Panna Cotta.
To round off a day of cereal-eating, we had a Happy Hour complete with cereal-infused cocktails and snacks. We enjoyed colorful drinks involving Lucky Charms, and even my beloved Cinnamon Toast Crunch . Together we raised a glass and saluted our cherished cereals.
On the final day of my trip, the moment I'd been waiting for finally happened. From the second I started this column, I've dreamed of doing an "Un-Wrapped"-like tour of a cereal factory to see how it's made. The General Mills folks made that dream come true.
General Mills has several plants around the globe where the cereals are actually made, but in Minneapolis - just a short drive away from their headquarters - is the JFB & Pilot Plant, where a lot of the R&D happens. So what exactly happens at the JFB and Pilot Plant? Staffers Tricia Kinney and Tim Tomczyk chatted with me about basically my dream job - being a cereal developer and taster.
In the past several years, the folks at the plant have worked on important projects like getting whole grain to be the first ingredient as well as reducing the sugar in all General Mills cereals. But they also focus on the basics - like simply creating delicious cereals. Of course, a big part of what they do is develop new cereals. For a brand new cereal, the lifecycle from ideation to shelves is about 18 months.
When it comes to testing the cereals, they confirmed that there is indeed such a thing as an expert cereal taster. Sadly, I don't quite qualify. I asked them about discontinued cereals, thinking surely these were the people with the power, but Tricia told me they base all of those decisions on consumer research. She told me some of the cereals she missed the most, which included Crispy Wheats & Raisins, and Betty Crocker Muffin Cereals.
Some things, however, never change, like Cheerios and the marshmallow bits in Lucky Charms. If it ain't broke...
I was so sad to leave the happy, magical world that is General Mills HQ, but will never forget my cereal-filled adventure.