Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Frito- Lay Factory Tour, Killingly, CT

Last week I fulfilled a life long dream.  When I was a child, I, like many other children, watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood pretty religiously.  I enjoyed the opening tune, the Neighborhood of Make Believe where King Friday reigned over his loyal subjects, and even all of the people who used to stop by to say hello to Mr. Rogers.  My favorite though, my very very favorite part of the show was when Mr. Rogers would take his viewing audience into a factory to see how all sorts of dazzling things were made.  I remember the crayon episode the best- probably because I did enjoy my coloring time as well, and I loved seeing the rainbow of colors come together in neat cylinders just waiting to spread their beauty on a page of paper.  Ever since watching these episodes, I have desperately, somewhat strangely I'll admit, wanted to go on a factory tour to see how things are done.  So, when I was invited to tour the Frito-Lay Factory in Killingly Connecticut last week, well, I jumped at the opportunity- literally.  

Photo Cred- Ketchum
As a disclaimer- I am not a huge potato chip fan.  Sure- I might grab a handful here and there at a party, but I've never been one who has to have them. A lot of this has had to do with health reasons- I figured that they were chock full of chemicals, and yucky things, and couldn't possibly have any real ingredients or net worth to them.  So as an indulgent snack every so often- sure- but as a whole?  I try to stay away.  I have to say- the tour really shocked me.  Of course no one can say that potato chips are GOOD for you, but they really aren't THAT bad.  

Photo Cred- Ketchum
Are you aware that Lay's potato chips, the non baked variety, contain exactly THREE ingredients?  Potato, oil and salt-that's it.  Even more amazing to me?  The potatoes used are normally less than 24 hours from being pulled from the ground.  During the season, Frito-Lay gets their potatoes from Maine, and within a day of the farmers plucking them from the earth they are sorted, washed, peeled, sliced, fried and salted.  Then they are just placed into the bags, and shipped off to your favorite store.  I have to say- I was literally shocked when I heard this- Farm to Table in the last place I would have anticipated it.  

Photo Cred- Ketchum
The Killingly factory processes both potato and corn products, so not only are they producing potato chips but also some of the corn line like Doritos's and Frito's.  We learned that the corn process is a bit longer than the potato as the corn must be dehydrated and then re hydrated to get it the proper consistency for grinding into meal.  From there however it begins to take on a familiar route.  The meal is laid out and shaped by large machines that cut out the individual triangles.  These triangles set off on their journey of being toasted, and then fried, and then, dependent on the type of chip being created-they are then seasoned.  Do you have any idea how amazingly delicious a fresh, warm Dorito is?  I mean, purchased from the neighborhood store these are dangerous little devils, but warm from the fryer and a fresh coating of seasoning?  Addictive doesn't even begin to describe them.  I'll just say that it's a good thing that my wonderful tour guide shuttled us along before I started plunging my greedy little hands into the line of delightful orange chips that was passing me by.  

Photo Cred- Ketchum
The actual work of the machines was incredible.  Very few actual people littered the production floor, and those that were seemed to just be making sure that the machines were operating smoothly.  However that doesn't mean that Frito-Lay is a hands off operation.  Quite the contrary!  Every four hours the quality folks are running quality spot checks, comparing their freshly produced product with a control bag.  The control bag is a sealed, white bag sent from a special Frito-Lay factory.  In this bag are contained, what are supposed to be, the perfect chips.  They are created in a controlled environment, slower than the mass produced chips, and in completely perfect conditions.  The Quality teams at Frito-Lay then use these bags to compare to what is coming off of their production floor.  The flavor, texture, crunch, and appearance of the chips are all called into question, and the team must agree unanimously on the rating scale.  If any of the criteria vary too greatly from the control, the entire line may be shut down and the problem fixed immediately.  Lesser offenses may require a change in the line, though not a full halt of production.  On the day of my visit- the factory in Killingly was making chips that were exceeding the control bag- how's that for quality?

What may also surprise you, is Frito-Lay's dedication to providing as healthy of a product as they can.  Since the '80's they have been consistently ahead of the trend in changing their oil types from good to bad, in bringing out their baked and reduced fats line, and in embracing the ideas of portion control.  Frito-Lay also continues to try to find new ways to add in more vitamins and healthy ingredients to their offerings.  

So what did I learn on my dream come true trip to the Frito-Lay Factory?  
  • Watching a factory perform at peak levels and make their products in minutes is awesome.  No two ways about it- it's awesome.  
  • Frito-Lay chips are not the worst snack ever, in fact they really aren't that bad for you at all.
  • Consistency of quality within every bag of chips is of utmost importance.
So go ahead, grab a bag, those are some tasty spuds in the Frito-Lay bag!   

1 comment:

Brad Fallon said...

Oh my, if I were to go into the Frito-Lay factory they'd need to drag me out! My wife had a hard enough time getting me out of the Ben & Jerry's factory on our honeymoon!

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