Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Thousands of grandmothers being used by Frito-Lay to make Grandma's brand cookies
You've seen them on the shelves at the end of aisles in 7-11's, Circle K's, Wawa's or maybe at a gas station. Maybe you've passed them thinking that they were just like any other mass-produced cookie. Maybe you were one of the few who knew the secret and kept it to yourself. Well, now the secret is out.
Frito-Lay is employing thousands of grandmothers in their Plano, TX factory to make their Grandma's Homestyle Cookies brand. For years the giant snack food company has placed the image of a sweet grandmother on the wrapper of the cookies to give customers that homemade feeling. The company wanted to demonstrate that the cookies are from a comfortable place- your grandmother's kitchen. Well, they are.
"I love the cookies but I always thought they were machine-produced somewhere in Guam or something," said cookie enthusiast Kyle McGeckrin.
The cookies are not made in Guam, but in Texas at a high tech factory where each cookie is handmade by one of the 7556 grandmother bakers. "It takes the right amount of polydextrose and crystalline fructose and the perfect combination of ammonium bicarbonate with a pinch of partially hydrgenated soybean oil to make the perfect cookie," said Ethel Gummerson, 87, a cookie maker with Frito-Lay since 2005. It was not always this way.
About five years ago,, a year after the Grandma's Homestyle Cookie line debuted, Frito-Lay launched a massive grandma recruiting campaign. The campaign urged grandma's from around the country to move to Plano to "become expert bakers." Ads in many national papers read, "Do you like making cookies? Are you a grandma? Do you like warm weather? Do you like to get paid? Then come join Frito-Lay in Texas."
For the first year of the brands existence the cookies were made in Plano by robot-controlled machines. "We still called them Grandma's Cookies, but there wasn't a grandma within 10 miles of the factory," said Frito-Lay packaging director, Flint Tyler.
Company officials estimate that around 95% of the grandmas come to Frito-Lay at their own will, while the rest are dropped off by family members in the middle of the night. Both willing and unwilling are compensated generously by Frito-Lay. Gummerson would not be specific but said she made around $40,000, but sometimes had to work 75 hour weeks.
Company officials insist that the grandmothers are very well taken care of and are actually housed on the factory premises. "Many of the Grandma's are in wheel chairs which is why the factory floor was built on a 15 degree angle toward the housing compound. The dorms are at the bottom of the slope so when the grandmas are tired they can coast home," said Tyler.
So the next time you purchase a Grandma's brand cookie from Frito-Lay remember that a grandmother in a window-less factory in Plano put her heart and soul into it.