Students Compete to Design the Next Great Food Craze

Quick Summary

  • Capstone course culminates in four-hour competition
  • Marketing plans and social media campaigns created
  • $20,000 in prizes sweeten the pot

Want to buy probiotic hot sauce; fried ice cream sandwiches; sweet, stuffed ravioli; and even spoon-shaped biscotti, laden with matcha tea and white chocolate?

You can’t just yet but some visionary UC Davis food science students hope it won’t be long before you can.

In just seven weeks, 80 students, divided into 20 teams in the Food Product Innovation and Development class, brainstormed ideas for a line of three new food products, spent long hours developing them in a kitchen laboratory, and even designed packaging and labels to meet all federal guidelines, including health claims. They also devised marketing plans and social-media campaigns for their products. (See the class’s Twitter sites at #foodprodpro and #fst160.)

The quarter-long course culminated recently in a four-hour competition, judged by food industry professionals and a few select UC Davis faculty members.

Instructor Matthew Lange of the Department of Food Science and Technology developed the competition-based course over the past two years in hopes of fostering entrepreneurial skills and interest among the science-focused students.

“The first thing I tell students is that they can impact millions of lives by creating delicious new food products that also happen to be healthier and more sustainably produced,” Lange said.

By the time the final competition rolled around, the students did seem to have developed business-world savvy while developing their new food products. During their three-minute presentations, they named their target markets: millennials with eclectic preferences for some products and well-heeled mid-lifers or the young and growing Asian population for others.

The students also identified the “white space” or niche on grocery store shelves that their products would fill. They quantified startup costs, projected scale-up savings, and anticipated the time it would take before their imaginary companies would begin to turn a profit.

And, they deftly fielded questions from the judges. Why did they choose a certain packaging material? How did they make that a vegan product? Why did they focus only on an adult market segment?

“There are still some kinks to work out in terms of the mechanics of this class, since this isn’t typically the way things are done,” Lange said. “But I think this provides good, ‘real world’ experience for the students, who — based on feedback from the judges — are super impressive.”

In the end, the Zen Yoga Mix team, composed of students Neda Abumuoilishn, Allyson Kameoka-Yu, Kara Nguyen and Danielle Kim, took home the Best Overall prize for their five-flavors line of freeze-dried, yogurt-covered fruit-and-nut snack mixes.

Additional awards presented were for:

  • Best Pitch, the Savor team for savory ice creams;
  • Best Sensory, the Raze team for yeast-risen frozen waffles;
  • Best Package, the East Exotic Granola team for savory granolas;
  • Most Ecofriendly, the Veggie Mights team for vegetable leathers; and
  • Most Likely to be Health-Promoting, the Koji Joy team for dairy-free yogurt puddings.

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