Penn State-Ingredion short course introduces the future of food science

Jack Ouligian
January 23, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Penn State's Bob Roberts met more than a year ago with Julie Emsing Mann, senior manager of global plant protein strategy, and Matt Yurgec, manager of dairy and alternative dairy applications, both of international ingredient provider Ingredion, he had little inkling of the short course they would develop together.

That course, the Penn State-Ingredion Plant-based Yogurt Alternative Short Course, took place last fall and was deemed a success. During the two-day workshop, 31 attendees, hailing from 11 states and four countries, gained insight into the challenges of formulating plant-based yogurt alternatives, the breadth and functionality of plant proteins, and the nitty-gritty details of bringing a product to market.

“In the other dairy-focused courses I’ve run, I’ve seen an interest in the use of plant-based products, but a lot of people have essentially no understanding of the basic functionality of these ingredients,” said Roberts, head of the Department of Food Science in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “By pairing with a company with expertise in this area, we thought we could develop something that helped the industry begin to understand the challenges related to manufacturing plant-based yogurt alternatives."

Ingredion, headquartered in Westchester, Illinois, transforms grains, fruits, vegetables and other plant materials into ingredients and solutions for the food, beverage, paper, brewing and other industries. The company is led by President and Chief Executive Officer James Zallie, a 1983 Penn State food science graduate. Zallie recently was honored as an Alumni Fellow by the Penn State Alumni Association.

Penn State Yogurt Short Course

Penn State’s Department of Food Science partnered with Ingredion to host a Yogurt Alternative Short Course.

IMAGE: Julie Emsing Mann

Apart from industry interest, Roberts attributed the short course’s strong enrollment to the collaboration between Penn State and Ingredion. “Our Department of Food Science has a tradition of offering really solid, face-to-face trainings, and Ingredion helped us by identifying industry-based speakers and by reaching out to potential students who would be interested in the course.”

In a fortuitous coincidence, Zallie, who visited campus to received his Alumni Fellow award while the short course was taking place, was able to speak to attendees about the tremendous growth that plant-based proteins are experiencing and how it’s on-trend with consumers’ desire to find sustainable and good-tasting alternatives to animal-based proteins. He noted that Ingredion is looking to be a sustainable and trusted source of plant-based proteins and offer its customers clean-label, wholesome and nutritional ingredient solutions.

“It was nice for him, for the students, and for his employees, and I think that we had a good course to show him,” said Roberts, who added that Mann and Yurgec also are alumni of Penn State’s food science program. In addition, Mann is a thought-leader within the plant-based protein ecosystem with 2019 publications and presentations in Forbes Women, Plant Based World, IFTNext Podcast, Bridge2Food and Nutritional Outlook, to name a few.

In the future, Roberts predicted wide-ranging opportunities for the use of plant-based materials and alternatives beyond yogurt. Though he acknowledged the market domination of vegan and nonvegan consumer groups, he also saw room for fruitful combinations.

“I think there are lots of opportunities in the middle,” he said. “If you take primarily plant ingredients and add a little bit of dairy, the dairy proteins bring important functionality to the product, and you’re able to do things that you previously couldn’t.”

Roberts, who developed Penn State’s annual Cultured Dairy Products Short Course in 1999, hopes that this partnership will become an annual offering as well. “I’d like to think that if we do a good job, then people will continue to come to us,” he said, “It’s an important thing to understand, and understanding important things is really what we do here.”

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Last Updated January 23, 2020