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Thursday, October 28, 2021

UC Davis students snag grand prize at food technology competition

A team of UC Davis students took grand prize at the annual Nutritious Foods For Kids Competition. The national contest is jointly organized by Disney Consumer Products and The Institute of Food Technologists Student Association.

In this Disney-themed competition, participating teams used their skills and knowledge of food science technology to turn an initial product idea into something that could be sold on store shelves. Products were required to contain either a fruit or a vegetable, incorporate the Disney theme and carry some sort of appeal for children under the age of 12.

The UC Davis team’s Mickey Mouse Pocket Pie was the winning product. These small, pocket-sized pies had whole-wheat crust with cinnamon in the dough, and contained apple juice concentrate, butternut squash, peaches and bananas. The pies did not contain any refined sugar.

For winning, the team received a Mickey Mouse trophy, a first-place certificate and $7,500.

This is just the second year that the competition has existed. Last year, Anna Caroselli and Chereen Leong, both UC Davis food science technology graduate students, took second place.

To assemble their team, Caroselli and Leong recruited food science undergraduates who had shown interest in participating via e-mail.

“A lot of people were interested at first, so we emphasized that it was an intensive project. We narrowed our final competition roster down to seven people,” Caroselli said.

Of the seven people on the team, five went to the conference, and three presented the product to the judges.

Each member had to focus on a different aspect of the project. Responsibilities included designing taste tests, outlining ingredient specifications, marketing, prototyping and making sure that everything was available in the industry. Leong said that being able to distribute responsibilities among more people was not the only reason for the team’s improved performance.

“Last year we had information in our paper that we didn’t end up presenting. This year we took the entire paper and broke it down into a more complete oral presentation,” Leong said.

The team’s success can also be attributed to their improved ability to answer questions.

“We did a better job of fielding questions that we got asked by the judges. It seemed to me judges were focusing more on how we answered the question, rather than the answer’s content,” Leong said.

To make sure they clinched the top prize, the team put in extra hours in order to bring their initial product idea to fruition.

“Last year, the competition finals coincided with our finals week here at Davis. We had to take our finals early in order to attend the conference,” Leong said.

Though this year may not have been as hectic for the team, effective time management was still key. John Frelka, a senior food science technology major, said doing the work was less of a chore because it was something he was passionate about.

“I made time for the competition by just making it one of the things I have to do, like homework. It was easier than doing homework, though, since product development is what I want to do with my life. It was more of a pleasure,” Frelka said.

Faculty aid in the food science technology department was also crucial to the students’ success. A few students took a food science technology class on prototyping, in which their professor allowed them to use class time to work on the competition.

“I think it’s fairly evident that the faculty in the food science department put a high value on students and are willing to take time out of their own busy lives to help us out,” Frelka said.

Leong describes the win as emotional overload.

“Cornell is our biggest competition in food science. They’re number one in the east and we’re number one in the west. The minute they said Cornell got second place, we just lost it. We ran up the stage, grabbed the trophy and ran off,” she said.

Despite the success of Mickey’s Pocket Pies at the competition, it is unlikely that they will ever show up on store shelves. Disney now owns the idea and it would be expensive to determine their cost-effectiveness, Caroselli said

However, in her eyes, the experience was positive.

“We got a travel stipend in order to go to Chicago for the conference, so we actually made money participating – definitely something to add to the resume. It’s pretty cool that we can show that we took second place, and then improved to first this year,” Caroselli said.

The UC Davis team is preparing to sweep the competition again next year with “Magic Brownies,” though Caroselli notes that it is unlikely that the name will stick.

EDMOND HARE can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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