UWRF students win national award for innovative dairy product
November 12, 2023
A team of five UW-River Falls students won a national award in the Dairy Management Inc. New Product Competition on July 17, 2023. Students Yihong Deng, Ashley Gruman, Rafael Larosiliere, Kate Petersen, and Anna Euerle developed a product called RootCurd, which took first place in the competition. The competition focused on “products that calm,” according to its guidelines, “with a heightened emphasis on mental and emotional wellbeing.”
The competition was open to undergraduate and graduate students from across the United States, and Deng, Gruman, Larosiliere, Petersen, and Euerle, at the time of their win, were all undergraduates.
Grace Lewis, Assistant Professor of Animal and Food Science at UWRF, helped direct the team. “This team of students worked tirelessly to develop this product, and they had to overcome many, many technical difficulties along the way,” Lewis said in a UWRF Newsroom article.
The team received its first place award, as well as $8,000, at the Institute of Food Technologists annual trade show in Chicago, IL. The interview with Deng, Gruman, Larosiliere, Petersen, and Euerle is as follows.
Why did you decide to enter the competition, and how did the five of you become teammates on this project?
Anna Euerle: The competition was originally presented to us by our coach, Dr. Lewis. She had previously competed in the event and thought it would be something students at UWRF would be interested in, so she presented it to the Food Science Club. We set up an initial meeting just to see who was all interested, and we discussed the competition and the prompt more in-depth together. After a few more meetings we had narrowed down a few different ideas, and we had the team of 5 we proceeded with for the rest of the competition. We all knew each other through the food science department, so working together was nothing new for the five of us.
What did you think of the competition guidelines, and especially the heightened emphasis on products that “calm”?
Rafael Larosiliere: We thought the competition guidelines were in-line with market trends related to our generation. They embody our fast-paced lifestyle with consciousness of the foods we consume: their source, their quality & nutritional contents and of course their taste. The function of ginger and lavender provides the “calming effect” with an anti-inflammatory and relaxing effect. The heightened emphasis on products that “calm.”
How did you and your team decide to base your product on ginger curd? Why was ginger curd a good candidate for the competition and its guidelines?
Yihong Deng: We had a brainstorm for the initial ideation to think of potential ingredients that would have a calm effect. Ginger came to my mind as my mom would cook some ginger tea when I felt uncomfortable, which has a warming/anti-inflammatory effect. There is a traditional Chinese dessert made of ginger and milk, which is a good combination of functional ingredients and dairy. After reformulation of the original recipe, ginger curd with 89% dairy ingredients, 20g protein per serving, and the addition of lavender made it a good candidate for the guideline (51% dairy, a good source of protein and calming effect).
What changes did you make to the ginger curd recipe for the competition, and why?
Ashley Gruman: The recipe we used as a base for our product originates from Southern China. The changes we made to the recipe were to increase the dairy ingredients, add an additional calming effect, and eventually use the same recipe to scale up our product. We used lavender to promote an extra sense of calmness, in addition to the ginger that is already present. The increase in dairy ingredients helped develop a more structurally sound product, while also promoting dairy as a whole. One idea we really wanted to stick with was a clean label, as it is attractive to consumers. This meant that with any adjustment that was made to the recipe, we were conscious of how it would affect the “clean label” status, and how consumers would react to the adjustment.
How long did it take for you and your team to transform the concept into a completed product?
Ashley Gruman: From product ideation to final product was about a six-month process. Because this was a competition, we did have to abide by the deadlines presented to us. Regardless, the entire process took from November of 2022 to April of 2023. It was a quick turnaround time for a process like this, but we spent a lot of hours developing RootCurd. Some nights we would spend somewhere from 2-6 hours working on the process, and we would end up plugging our computers in and watching the Bachelor while we were working on it.
What was the process for RootCurd’s development, and what were the biggest obstacles that you and your team faced in creating it?
Kate Petersen: The first step in coming up with Root Curd was just an ideation session. We had several ideas for different products, and two that we actually made a first prototype with, but we ultimately decided to go with what we now call Root Curd. After determining what our product was going to be, we made several versions trying out different levels of sweetness and ginger intensity, and adjusting the protein content with some milk protein powders. After finding the best formulation, the biggest challenge we faced was finding the correct processing. We added a couple of processing steps to overcome the development of the bitter flavors, create a smooth, creamy texture, and prolong shelf life. It was a troubleshooting process and time-consuming. We had several different levels of obstacles throughout the development process, but our teamwork and determination kept us going and allowed us to develop such a healthy and delicious product!
What are your plans for RootCurd in the future? Are you looking to release it as a commercial product, and, if so, how do you plan to do that?
Rafael Larosiliere: As of now, we are looking at getting our idea patented in the US with the help of WiSys. We have two options which would be to either start up a company to continue research & development on the product and eventually release it or license it to a company. We are still pretty new to handling something of this magnitude, our direction may change depending on the demands of our careers in the food industry.