Someday, maybe soon, food products from Penn State students could be available on the shelves of supermarkets around the country.
The products could come from the imaginations of the Penn State Food Science Production Team, seven students majoring in food science who attend two to three events per year to compete against teams from other universities to create food products.
“The competitions are really the whole reason the team exists,” said Shaina Melnick, a senior majoring in food science who has been a member for the past two years. “I am a part of the team because of the real-world experience the competitions give me.”
“These competitions are great because they give students the idea of all that it takes to commercialize a product,” said Daniel Azzara, professor of food and agribusiness and the faculty adviser for the team. “It’s not easy to take an idea from conception to commercialization.”
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In July, Penn State’s team won the American Dairy Research Institute’s New Product Competition to create a breakfast item that uses more than 50 percent milk.
The team called its product “Mooofins.”
“Our idea of Mooofins came to us quickly, but the perfection of them was a long process,” Melnick said.
She described Mooofins as a quiche-like muffin with cottage cheese as its base that contains 70 percent dairy and that people would eat for breakfast.
“We decided on cottage cheese because it does not have a lot of taste but high protein content,” she said. “That allowed us to make a healthy breakfast food whose flavor we can manipulate.”
Mooofins come in three flavors: blueberry sausage, maple bacon and bell pepper mushroom. The food is ready-made so that a consumer only has to put a Mooofin in the microwave and heat it up for a couple minutes.
To make a food item this simple to prepare, there were some complicated technical issues.
“Our biggest problem was that the Mooofin would collapse on itself every time we took it out of the oven,” Melnick said. “We had to reformulate the structure of it so it would not fall in on itself.”
Azzara said his role of faculty adviser focuses mostly on advice.
“I limit my input as much as possible, so the team comes up with the ideas themselves,” he said. “I’m here to bounce ideas off of, but they are the ones doing the heavy lifting.”
However, Azzara took on a bigger role after Mooofins won because of the real market potential of the product.
“We’re looking into the prospect of commercializing Mooofins,” he said. “The food science department is sending out feelers to all of our industry connections.”
To date, no other products entered in the dairy institute’s New Product Competition have succeeded in being commercialized.
Bill Graves, an institute spokesman, said that this could be because students and companies are usually already on the same track. “During our reception, when students and industry meet, we find that the ideas from the competition always align very closely with food product ideas from the industry,” he said.
The team is already focusing on new competitions. On Sept. 17, the dairy institute announced the theme of its 2013-14 competition: a dairy product for any occasion specifically made for the baby boomer generation.
“I want to work as a product developer after I graduate, so that’s why I started competing with the team,” Melnick said. “I’ve stayed on the team because of all the experiences and fun I’ve had along the way.”