Hunger strikes. What do you reach for? What factors go into your decision? Nutrition? Convenience? Flavor? This year, a team of food science and nutrition students set out to determine what you think in the moment before you pick up your next snack, so they could design a product catered to your needs. The next time hunger strikes in the snack aisle, you might reach for a product designed right here at Ohio State!
Each year, food companies hold product development contests in search of their next new product. Each company proposes a theme relevant to its needs. Students from across the nation compete in these competitions, and companies often adopt the winning products for commercial production. This year, Ohio State’s Ocean Spray product development team placed 1st in the Ocean Spray 2020 competition with their winning snack product CranCheeTM. CranChee consists of baked, crunchy, cheesy crisps made with cranberry fiber and paired with a savory tomato-cranberry “bog sauce.”
The mission of the Ocean Spray competition was to create a healthy snack for the Gen Z market using cranberry byproducts. Increasingly, food companies are looking for ways to reuse waste generated from food production. The use of byproducts inspired the imaginations of food science and technology students Yumin Xu, Danielle Voss, and Yucheng Zhou, and nutrition student Boluwatiwi Durojaye, who collaborated to form the Ocean Spray team. “Those byproducts, many times, are disposed of directly. It is double debasement—both economically and environmentally. Those “wastes” and byproducts, mostly, are good source of proteins, fibers, and micronutrients,” explained Yucheng Zhou. “Ocean Spray produces about 25 million pounds of excess [waste] annually… Those numbers touched us. We want to try our best to help ease the burden of those wastes on our planet,” added team captain Yumin Xu.
The majority of Ocean Spray’s product portfolio consists of cranberry products, which creates a large waste stream of byproducts. “We carefully studied the characteristics of those byproducts and tailored their unique functionalities into our product,” Xu said. The team decided to use three different byproducts in their final product to maximize the benefits to Ocean Spray, the environment, and the consumer. The team succeeded; 40% of the CranChee product is made from upcycled cranberry ingredients. By utilizing these valuable byproducts, CranChee finds value in a waste that would have once ended up in the trash.
To determine the needs of the Gen Z market, the team began with a marketing survey. “Based on our marketing survey, 36% of Gen Z replaces meals with snacks. The top two snack categories picked by Gen Z are chips and sweets,” noted team member Danielle Voss. “Gen Z is also very adventurous and enjoys new foods. They love Mexican foods. This inspired us to make a product similar to tortilla chips in combination with salsa. Having a salsa-like sauce to go with our chips could make our product taste richer,” Yumin added.
The product development team also considered the nutritional needs of Gen Z. One serving of CranChee provides an excellent source of fiber and a good source of protein and calcium with less than 1 gram of added sugar and only 110 calories. “Traditional chips and sweets in the current market are very unhealthy as a meal replacer: they could not provide sufficient fiber or protein. This inspired us to design a chip-based product that is loaded with fiber and protein, so the product can fulfill the craving for chips and the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle,” Xu said. CranChee’s convenient, single-serving package is ideal for on-the-go consumers like Gen Z. “Current tortilla chips and salsa are sold separately. There is no single serving, grab-n-go tortilla chips in combination with salsa. So, we wanted to fill the gap,” Voss explained.
The team was already at work when the COVID-19 shut-down occurred. The quarantine posed unexpected limitations on their work. “For example, we were not able to use the pilot plant for production. We had a hard time gathering people to do sensory tests,” Xu explained. So, the team was forced to get creative. “We developed an innovative batch-production method that allowed us to produce our product at a large scale in home kitchen-setting; we also designed an online survey that shows the product picture, nutrition label, and claims as well as the texture and flavor description, for consumers to evaluate our product virtually so we can alleviate the reliance on in-person sensory tests,” said Yucheng. Unphased by the pandemic, the team’s innovative thinking led them to win first place. The team looks forward to seeing the product on the market—CranChee is set to make an impact in the snacking market as part of Ocean Spray’s product portfolio in the future.