Man of La Muncha

updated 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

JOE MILLER RIPS OPEN A BAG OF Pop Perfect Poppin Partners chili pepper flavor microwave popcorn and pork rinds, wolfs down a handful, then taps out a sentence on his computer keyboard. Then he reaches for the Munch 'Ems Southwestern Style Cracker Chips. This is Joe Miller at work. This is why Joe Miller, who is 5'9", weighs 220 pounds. This is also why Joe Miller is a big cheese in the junk-food—or, as he calls it, the snack-food—industry.

Miller, 52, a former high school journalism teacher (and former marketing director at Sea World in Aurora, Ohio), has been editor of Snack Professional, a Cleveland-based trade publication, for 18 months. He doesn't just write about snacks, though. Miller has rapidly acquired a reputation as the most sophisticated palate in the business. He can distinguish among 10 brands of cheese-flavor crackers, speak knowingly about texture and seasonings—and name the manufacturer at a glance.

It's not a job for the faint of heart (Miller's doctor ordered him to go on a diet to lower his cholesterol) or the moderate of appetite. "Every new snack in the country filters through here," says Miller, who lives in suburban Ashtabula with Mois, his second wife. He gets to taste-test most of them, sometimes as many as 20 or 30 items at a sitting, though he insists, "I don't abuse the stuff."

All this snacking has paid off. "Joe is a sort of a catalyst," says E. Terry Groff, president of the Reading (Pa.) Pretzel Machinery Corp., whose machines turn out an estimated 80 percent of the world's pretzels. "His endorsement can get a product off to a good start." And if Miller discovers a flaw in a product, that gives a manufacturer a chance to fix it before it goes on the market.

That's just fine with Joe Miller. "I love every snack I see," he says. "There's no such thing as a bad snack."

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