March 04, 2024

Wisconsin-River Falls students win checkoff’s New Product Competition

ROSEMONT, Ill. — A University of Wisconsin-River Falls team took first place in the Dairy Management Inc. New Product Competition with an innovation that contains 89% dairy ingredients and meets the contest’s guidelines of offering a calming aspect.

The students created RootCurd, which resembles a soft pudding with a smooth and velvety texture and a slightly spicy flavor thanks to its inclusion of ginger.

RootCurd was inspired by a traditional Chinese recipe and features lavender to help reduce physical and mental stress levels. The product provides 20 grams of dairy protein per serving.

Students Kate Petersen, Yihong Deng, Rafael Larosiliere, Anna Eurele and Ashley Gruman are studying food science at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and earned the first-place prize of $8,000.

They were recognized at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology, or FIRST, conference in Chicago.

The dairy checkoff has hosted this event since 2012 to inspire the next generation of food scientists and innovators and give students an opportunity to experience a real-life scenario of working for a food company.

The contest has a different theme each year that is based on consumer trends and aligns with checkoff-led strategies to reach younger audiences. Calming is a quality that Gen Z consumers are seeking from their food choices.

“Our objective is to stimulate dairy product innovation to meet the changing marketplace needs with healthy and nutritious products,” said Rohit Kapoor, who is vice president of product research for DMI and manages this contest.

“More important, this competition inspires the next generation of dairy scientists and innovators. We have had more than 500 students be part of this enriching experience since its inception.”

Eurele led the team’s effort into identifying flavors that offered calming benefits and discovered her Gen Z peers are seeking international-inspired options. This led to choosing ginger as the key ingredient followed by lavender, a known calming agent.

“To a lot of people, the pairing of ginger and lavender was a little off-putting initially, but once they tried it, it actually marries together really, really well,” Eurele said. “RootCurd plays to a lot of interesting different notes.”

Petersen said she and Deng attended the recent American Dairy Science Association annual meeting where they listened to a presentation from DMI experts on consumer trends.

They learned younger consumers are seeking products that offer high protein content, have clean labels and are convenient.

“RootCurd hits all of those parameters, so hearing that at the conference made us think, ‘Wow we made something that can actually work,’” Petersen said.

“Our ingredients piggyback the natural calming effects of dairy. When I think of calming, I think of a glass of hot chocolate or a bowl of ice cream, so RootCurd is just a progression of adding our ingredients to dairy.”

Venkateswarlu Sunkesula, vice president of research and product development for Idaho Milk Products, helped judge the competition and commended RootCurd for its unique attributes.

“RootCurd stood out with the highest level of dairy ingredients and met many consumer preferences,” Sunkesula said. “The soothing texture, warm aroma and flavor provided a relaxing effect, which is of great interest to Gen Z consumers.”

California State University-Fresno students placed second with Cottage Core, a high-protein premium cottage cheese-based frozen dessert.

A Kansas State University team took third with Sip to Soothe, which is based on a traditional Indian dairy-based beverage known as “Chaas” made from cultured buttermilk.

Virginia dairy farmer Joanna Shipp, chair of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, was another contest judge and said seeing all the students’ innovation is a rewarding aspect.

“It’s great to have young students engage with dairy now, especially those studying food science so they’re thinking about dairy throughout their time in college and hopefully when they are in the professional world,” Shipp said.

“The students are so talented and innovative and they’re creating products that Gen Z would consume. They just blew me away, and the contest continues to pull in new schools, so we’re reaching more kids than ever before.”

The students appreciated the real-world learning opportunity that they say will prepare them for life after college.

“I think this contest is a great thing for food science students,” Larosiliere said. “It gave us great insights into product development. I remember looking at our first batch of RootCurd and the texture was very thin and soft, but then the last prototypes looked like something you’d buy in the store. That part was very fulfilling and I hope this contest runs as long as possible.”