Fall 2019 - Articles

Breaking Bread And Barriers

Food platter with salmon, blueberries, avocado, and other foods
Beth Westmoreland Miller

One of the first things Beth Westmoreland Miller ’13 associated with Auburn was Rotel dip. The daughter of two Auburn alumni, the Miller football tailgates invariably featured the spicy beef-and-cheese dip, creating a lasting memory of community. The games eventually became her primary focus, but Miller recognized early that food can do more than feed.

Now, as a global buyer for strategic initiatives at Nestlé, she connects the dots between food, farmers and family health across the globe.

“I support our product development teams globally as we work toward making healthier, tastier food for all,” said Miller. “It’s rewarding to know that the ingredients I purchase help people across the planet live better lives.”

Living in Switzerland, traversing the globe and experiencing other cultures is a regular part of her job, but far from what she thought she would be: a dentist. The Scottsboro, Ala. native always had an interest in biomedical sciences, but after speaking with the College of Human Sciences’ Dean Susan Hubbard, she was encouraged to explore the food science major. Later joined with the College of Agriculture, through food science Miller gained a new respect for the farmers that feed the world.

“I added a minor in supply chain management my junior year, which was the perfect coursework for me to combine my love for food, science and logistics.”

After graduation, she worked at Back Forty Beer Company in the quality control lab and production facility, but felt the urge to see the world. In 2013, she accepted a position at Nestlé in the Supply Chain Development Program. Miller moved to Los Angeles three days before Auburn played Florida State in the NCAA Football National Championship.

“It was amazing moving to a city on the other side of the country and arriving to the airport full of Auburn fans — it was as if the whole Auburn Family was helping me move!”

Miller with growers at a Stevia research farm in Ganzhou, China

When she was not tailgating with the Los Angeles Auburn Club, Miller toured the Midwest sourcing for wheat and egg producers, one of her various roles in commodities procurement. After four years in L.A., she was promoted to her current role in 2017, which required her moving near Nestlé’s headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland.

As a global buyer — “the perfect combination of food science and supply chain,” she says — Miller acquires specific ingredients from around the world for thousands of Nestlé products.

Can Can't

“My main focus is on probiotics, prebiotic fibers, stevia, and omega-3-rich oils. We use these ingredients across many product ranges, from confections and ice cream to medical nutrition and infant formula. Even in pet food!”

A “typical day” for Miller might consist of making conference calls to Indonesia and Thailand, working with European colleagues throughout the day, then video meetings with partners in the U.S. and South America in the afternoon. In the past, work has taken her across the globe to places like France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Belgium and China.

Working with so many different cultures and languages posed a challenge at first, but after taking a class on cross-cultural communication, Miller learned that “communication is not what you say, communication is what is understood.” Learning to speak simpler English with no slang or idioms not only improves her work process, but it brings her closer to her international colleagues.

“I recently had a Japanese supplier thank me for not using contractions. I’d never thought about how similar ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ could sound in a conversation.

It is an ongoing practice of perfecting my communicating methods, but I see the results in improved relationships and tackling any problems together quickly.”

Often, Miller buys ingredients used for a specific purpose, like fish oil for brain development and various probiotics or prebiotics for gut health. Nestlé has partnered with scientists and farmers around the world, sending individuals like Miller to inspect products and make wholesale purchases.

“I’m a nerd when it comes to seeing supplier facilities. I ask a plethora of questions and try to learn as much as I can about what I’m buying. I love learning the steps needed to convert a chicory root into a prebiotic fiber or learning what parts of the fish are used to extract the purest fish oil. I’ve been to Nestlé sites producing everything from pizza, coffee, infant formula, and everything in between.”

These days, the more Miller travels, the more she sees the connections our food creates around the world. Even Rotel dip has the power to bring people together.

“Food has always been my vehicle for peace. When we can sit together and learn from each other that we are all more alike than we are different, we can impact the world.”