Food Science students place high at national product development event

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's Food Science Product Development Team recently was chosen as a finalist in the Student Culinology Competition, held in San Antonio, Texas, for creation of its "Spicy Chili Volcano Bites."

The cornbread minisnacks filled with a spicy pork chili were judged favorably in the competition held annually by Research Chefs Association, also known as RCA. Billing itself as the premier source of culinary and technical information for the food industry, the organization is committed to the advancement of culinology, which represents the blending of the culinary arts and food science and technology.

The RCA annually invites student teams to submit themed product proposals for the competition. This year, students were directed to develop a proposal for a Tex-Mex appetizer. Finalists shipped their product to the competition site. On the day of the competition, they created a fresh version of their concept product to be judged.

Members of the Penn State team include Shaina Melnick, of Lancaster, Pa.; Megan Woo, of San Francisco; Tabitha Lee, of Mt. Laurel, N.J.; Sarah Mann, of Hellertown, Pa.; Andrew Elder, of Bellefonte, Pa.; Jared Smith, of Lebanon, Pa.; Richard Swartz, of Philadelphia; Ryan McClafferty, of Reading, Pa.; and Lauren Popescu, of Clinton, N.J. All team members are Food Science majors in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

In June, the students also will travel to Las Vegas for the Product Development Competition held by the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association. Penn State is one of six finalist teams. Their product -- "Brew Bites," a snack made largely from spent grain left over from the brewing process and hop and malt extract -- will be assessed by a panel of judges.

This competition is held annually and gives students the chance to take the skills and knowledge they learned in school and apply it to real-world situations. Each participating school's team develops a new food idea and carries the concept through marketing and production, much like a commercial product-development team.

Entries consist of a proposal for a new food product. Judges then evaluate the potential success of product entries in today's market and technical problem-solving skills used in product development. The top six scoring teams then are asked to participate in the finals.

This year, the finals will be held in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Penn State team members will be there for four days, during which they will be required to give an oral presentation of their product concept, participate in a poster display session and take part in a product-tasting session.

Their overall performance will be scored by the judges, and the top three teams will be announced and honored at the awards ceremony the last night.

Though the team enjoys competing, senior team member Lauren Popescu noted that the real goal is to create new and innovative food products by applying the knowledge they've gained in their food science classes.

"We essentially go through the entire product-development process," she said. "We began the brainstorming process early in September, and from there we started making up prototypes.

"Once we came up with an optimized version, we wrote a product proposal to submit to various national competitions. We took into account every aspect of our product in these proposals, such as formulation, commercial processing, safety and shelf life, packaging, price point, marketing, and so forth.

"We even conducted sensory evaluations to ensure our product is well-received by consumers," she said.

The team meets about once a week and is open to all students to join. Over the years, the team has produced products such as a wine and cheese confection, a flavored yogurt spread and a portable parfait snack mix.

"Being on the team has helped me gain real, hands-on experience in product development," Popescu said. "This is something that typically can't be provided in a classroom setting, and employers are always impressed when someone takes the initiative to actually apply what they've learned."

The competitions are excellent experiential learning opportunities for students, according to Edward Dudley, assistant professor of food science, who advises the teams. "It requires them to pull together knowledge from all of their coursework and think very creatively about how to build and market a novel product," he said.

"Getting selected as a finalist in these competitions is quite an accomplishment," he added. "The faculty and staff in the Food Science Department are really proud of what these students have achieved."
 

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Last Updated April 19, 2012