Back in the day, yogurt was plain. On a particularly adventurous day, you might branch out with a vanilla or peach flavor, but for the most part, that’s as wild and crazy as yogurt got. That is, until Dick came along.
Dick Knutson, known as “Dick the Flavor Guy” to his Yoplait friends, is the creative genius behind some of our most successful products and flavors. As a product developer from 1998 to 2011, Dick collaborated with marketing and R&D to bring new Yoplait products and flavors to the market. In those 13 years with Yoplait, Dick estimates he developed about 35 products and flavors, including the entire Light Thick & Creamy and Fiber One lines.
Dick says the most important consideration when creating a new yogurt or flavor is the “base,” or the yogurt’s original form before flavors are added. No combination of flavors will taste good in a base that can’t first stand alone.
The next step is to collaborate with the marketing team to brainstorm flavor combinations that have the potential to work well together. Some combos are no-brainers because they’ve been around forever, like Strawberry Banana. Others require a bit more finesse, like Pineapple Upside Down Cake. The trick is to put the right ingredients together, in the right amounts, to taste so good and be so convincing that if you closed your eyes, you just might think you’re eating the real deal. And that’s where Dick’s talent for product development seemed to set him apart from the rest.
“I don’t think I was any more successful than anyone else,” says Dick. “I just happened to be working on the right stuff.”
Dick likes to downplay his skill, but the truth is, he became so natural at knowing what would make a new flavor just “work” that during his last five years at Yoplait, his co-workers often remarked there was no need test the new products Dick created. They unquestionably knew if Dick’s hand was involved, the product was likely market-ready the moment that first tester batch came out. Of course, Yoplait did test each product, and more often than not Dick was right on the money.
Dick attributes his knack for developing exceptionally tasty yogurts and flavors to his previous experiences in the food industry. “Having 20 years of experience before I got to that job, working in ice cream, cereal, frostings, and cakes...pretty soon you learn how things need to taste, how hard you have to work, and how fast you have to work to make a product good,” says Dick.
As most of our own life stories go, however, Dick’s childhood dream was not to become a product developer. No — Dick was going to be a dentist. After graduating from Concordia College in 1971 with a degree in chemistry, however, Dick took a job in food science upon learning he was not accepted into dental school. Thirty-eight years later he retired from Yoplait in 2011 having spent his entire career in the food industry. Dick has only good memories of his time spent at Yoplait and says the last 10 to 15 years of his career were his happiest. But that’s not to say he’s not enjoying the newest chapter in his life’s story.
“Retirement is just a lark,” says Dick, who now spends his days working on home improvement projects, traveling with his wife of almost 40 years, enjoying his two grandchildren, and golfing as often as possible. “I was excited to retire and was looking forward to it for quite a while. I didn’t know what it would be like — I don’t think anybody really does. Some people have a plan, but I didn’t have one. That first day I stayed in bed til 8 a.m. Many of my friends still get up at 6, it took me one day to adjust to 8.”
Go ahead and hit the snooze button, Dick, you’ve earned it. Thanks to your extraordinary talent for creating so good yogurt that tickles our taste buds, our days are just a little brighter, a little more colorful, and a whole lot sweeter.