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Getting to know ... A Lakeview Farms R&D Product Specialist PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, July 06, 2013 12:06 AM

BY STACY TAFF

Staff Writer

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DELPHOS — “It’s gelatin, not Jello. That’s a huge thing,” Cindy Shwinnen said.

Cindy, a Research and Development Product Specialist at the Lakeview Farms lab on Second Street, is referring to the many gelatin-based desserts the company develops.

“Never use the ‘J’ word because that’s actually a name brand,” she said. “So it’s like a dirty word around here.”

 

After having been with Lakeview Farms for more than 18 years, Cindy has had a hand in developing nearly every one of its products shoppers find on the shelves today, from gelatin-based desserts to mousses, puddings, yogurt, sour cream and dips.

 

“We also make flan, which always surprises people,” she said. “Seriously, you’d be surprised by how many products we can develop. We make a lot of products for such a small town. We also develop our own sour creams and sour dressings that we use in the formulas. Currently, we’re working on at least 20 products.

“Some day you may come in and say ‘I want a banana peach gelatin.’ You’re going to develop that specific flavor using the gelatin base we already make or develop a new base. Then a customer may say ‘well I want that sugar-free’ and you’ll have to work out how to make the base sugar-free.”

After a product is developed, it must be tested and sourced.

“We have to source the ingredients, which means talking to our vendors, getting the spec sheets in and getting those OK’d. Then we make our small 3-5-pound batch over here and take that over to the plant and assist there, where those batches can be made into anywhere from 100-pound to 5,000-pound batches,” Cindy said. “Also, every day, quality assurance sets out an evaluation of the product we made the day before and everyone goes through to taste them and evaluate on consistency, texture and flavor just to assure the product that’s going out the door is what we expected it to be. That’s something unique we do. It can also pack on the pounds. We use small spoons but that doesn’t matter.”

Naturally, Cindy still has to do the boring on-the-job tasks like answering e-mails, doing computer inputting and paperwork but the majority of her work is dealing directly with the products that eventually get sent to the plant for mass production.

Cindy Schwinnen stands with products she has helped develop for Lakeview Farms over the 18 years she has been with the company.“The job really varies. It could be developing a product, tweaking a product or maybe updating a formula,” she said. “It may be working with labels or conversing with your technicians and vendors and throughout the day you’re tasting product. Our ideas are brought to us through salespeople, employees, friends, food shows, trends; you try to keep up with the trends, like Greek yogurt. If you go to a restaurant, they may have something that makes you think ‘that would make a good dip.’ We also have customers request items constantly. One thing that’s very important is that you respond quickly to your customers.”

Customers consist mostly of retail and food service companies and when they make a request, Cindy and her team work to get as close as they can to the customer’s wishes. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out.

“I’d say probably around 80 percent of the products we develop don’t work out,” she said. “We archive them and sometimes they’ll come back. When we make a product, we taste it. If we like it, if we’re trying to match something and we think it’s pretty good, then we’ll send it out. We may tweak it seven or eight times before we send it to the customer. Then the customer will send their comments back, like if it needs more salt or more heat or if it’s too gelatinous.”

After spending time with a product from idea to completion, it’s understandably hard when a customer finds it lacking.

“It’s challenging when you feel like you’ve really worked and have gotten this product down and all of a sudden it goes nowhere,” Cindy said. “Sometimes it’s a little hard to accept that they wouldn’t like a product that your panel really thought was good. We have a product I’m working on right now that we submitted three years ago and the customer didn’t accept it. It’s just coming back now because they want to revisit it.”

Challenges aside, Cindy finds it fulfilling to spend her days creating products others can enjoy.

“The best part is being able to put out a good quality product that people all over the country can taste. I love knowing that it’s good and that I have been a part of the development,” she said. “I had an instance where I went to visit my daughter-in-law’s family in Lebanon and there were some visitors from Georgia and they brought a vegetable plate that they got at the grocery store. They brought out this dip and I recognized it as one that I had developed and I said ‘you really like that dip?’ and they said ‘yeah, this is one of the best ones they have,’ and I was able to say ‘I developed it.’ It’s the positive comments from customers that make my job rewarding. That’s one of the things we take pride in; knowing our product is good and that it starts here, in the lab.”

Cindy wasn’t always on the food service track but she feels it’s where she belongs.

“I actually went to school to be a hairdresser,” she said. “I answered an ad in the paper for a lab technician here. It was just weighing ingredients and things like that. I eventually worked my way up to where I am now. It was all on-the-job training. I attend seminars and go to food shows and I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues. I have really good people here who have taught me a lot and who I’ve taught. Every day you learn something new.

“I got my love of food from my parents and my grandparents on both sides. They always had gardens, they were always canning and baking. I came from a large family — there were nine of us kids, — and we were always cooking.”

Cindy lives in rural Delphos. She and her late husband Eugene have three grown children: Amie (Mark) Burger, Brad Schwinnen and Chad (Val) Schwinnen. She also has four grandchildren: Gage, Ben and Alivia Burger and Maya Schwinnen; and one grandchild on the way.

Last Updated on Saturday, July 06, 2013 12:42 AM
 

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