A Franklin chemistry professor, the late Tom Hodge, used to reprimand Sheila Moore ’76 for tasting the chemicals she handled during class experiments. He warned her of the risks, but Moore used taste as a way of memorizing and recalling each chemical’s distinct properties. It was a process she developed instinctually and one that carried over to her graduate school studies at Miami of Ohio University, where another observant professor told her she should consider a career in the then-mysterious “flavor world.”
“I didn’t even know the flavor world existed,” recalled Moore. “I don’t think a lot of chemists know about it even today, but it’s a highly technical, lucrative industry with several thousand employees worldwide and several hundred in the U.S.”
Those who work in the flavor world focus on helping food and beverage manufacturers customize the taste of their products and also may be involved in manipulating the texture, appearance and aroma.
When Moore pursued her chemistry degree in the ’70s, there were few other women taking the same college courses and none working in research and development at her first employer. Most women were hired for secretarial positions, and that’s how she got her foot in the door.
“In my early career. I was everybody’s daughter, sister or granddaughter. They were more inclined to try and hug me or touch my hair than trade a handshake,” recalled Moore.
Occasionally, she thought back to her tutelage under Hodge at Franklin for encouragement.
“His classes were demanding, and sometimes I thought he was pushing too hard, but later I realized he helped teach me how to approach my work with logic and persistence and to speak up,” said Moore.
All of the hard lessons paid off at her first job. She was promoted from sales to project management within six months after demonstrating her knack for meeting clients’ product expectations. The promotion enabled her involvement in making food dyes for Kool-Aid and JELL-O.
“My science background was very helpful in sales because I understood what kind of technical questions to ask our clients about their wants and needs and knew how to relay that information back to the R&D (research and development) people. I could speak both of their languages,” recalled Moore.
An important distinction between flavor sellers like Moore and sales people in some other industries is that rather than commodities they offer intellectual property.
“I pilot and pitch ideas to clients,” said Moore. During phase one, clients have the chance to accept or modify the idea; phase two usually involves taste-testing. There’s always a risk that Moore’s ideas could be stolen so clients must sign secrecy agreements. If a concept succeeds in phase two, Moore stays involved in marketing, research and development work but relies on a contract packer to manage production and quality control.
Several of Moore’s flavor inventions have catapulted mainstream products you may recognize. They include Bubble Tape Bubble Gum, Go-Gurt freeze and thaw yogurt, Gatorade Orange, Newman’s Own salad dressings and McDonald’s Cinnamon Melts. She also was part of a Kraft Foods team involved in creating the first-ever six-packs of yogurt to hit the marketplace and in launching fat-free ice creams and salad dressings.
In spite of the lengthy list of high-profile accomplishments, Moore said her proudest achievement is starting her own business, Moore’s Food Resources, L.L.C., of which she is president and owner since 1997. For most of its history, her company’s focus has been on securing new product development contracts with food manufacturers, but this year marks a new milestone as she prepares to roll out her own line of frozen foods, beginning with waffles made from beets.
You won’t see these waffles at your local grocery store; they’re made for the food-service industry. That means Moore’s waffles will show up on restaurant menus across the nation; they may be offered as breakfast fare or desserts, depending on the restaurant’s needs.
She is working to get her line of waffles trademarked and copyrighted to bear her company name, but consumers will likely have no idea who made them.
“It’s standard for products that restaurants use to be packaged simply, in boxes with a best-by date, lot number, product weight and ingredient list. Food-service providers don’t want their competitors to know where their products are purchased,” explained Moore.
What consumers should notice, however, is the waffles’ distinct red color, thanks to beets, the main ingredient. Her waffles have been three years in the making and contain fewer than 10 ingredients; Moore made a strong effort to create a farm-to-table product.
“Restaurant chains are changing to more foods made from sustainable ingredients, and that’s because millennials are driving it. They demand the best quality with the least harm to the environment and animals,” said Moore. “And, that’s always been important to me.”
Given the impact of millennials on the industry, Moore was delighted when Franklin sociology professor Jason Jimerson, Ph.D., whom she met at a Grizzlies’ alumni event in her hometown Chicago, invited her to speak about her career this spring to one of his classes. Moore used the opportunity to engage the students in a blind taste-test. The students documented their opinions about the flavor, texture and color of her product vs. current popular brands.
“The results were similar to other taste-tests,” said Moore. “The students favored my beet waffles for taste and texture.” She noted that in taste-tests at various other locations, children most often chose the red waffles over any other possible colors.
While Moore has finished significant work on her product invention, she remains busy with production details, including collaborating with a manufacturer on two versions of the waffle and partnering with another manufacturer on a snack-cake product. Her involvement also includes finding sources for the best flour at the best prices, building partnerships with beet growers, determining the most cost-effective ways to transport the product and on the list goes.
Networking is a key to the success of her business.
“I value intelligence in people. I try to build relationships with people who know more about specific subjects than I do. I belong to several key organizations in the food industry. I also read numerous trade journals and take leadership courses online,” said Moore.
She also reaches out to chefs at restaurant chains and asks to talk with them about trends and observations.
“I think of myself as a wheel radiating with spokes, and I seek to find new spokes in niche areas that can help make all the parts of the whole even stronger,” said Moore.
She added, “Having a liberal arts background brings balance to my career; it gives me an ability to see things from multiple perspectives, which is so important in the business world. On a personal level, it helps me understand how history recycles itself and impacts politics, religion and social issues around the world. The liberal arts help us understand all the parts and how they correlate to the big pictures.”
For more information about what a degree from Franklin College can do for you, contact the Office of Admissions at (800) 852-0232.