ROSEMONT, Ill. – A team of Utah State University students majoring in food science answered the challenge of developing a dairy-based product for “gamers” during National Dairy Council’s New Product Competition.
Students Nathan Pougher, Melissa Marsh, Chandler Stafford and Mackenzie Taylor defeated teams from Iowa State University and California State Polytechnic University-Pomona with its Moba Boba energy drink, which is 92-pecent dairy.
The students earned the first-place prize of $8,000 and were recognized at this week’s Institute of Food Technologists’ FIRST (Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology) conference in Chicago.
The farmer-funded National Dairy Council has hosted this event since 2012 to inspire the next generation of food scientists and innovators. It gives college students an opportunity to experience a real-life scenario of working for a food company and helps secure the next generation of dairy industry innovators.
“This is an experience that goes a long way to help them meet their goals in the real world,” said Dr. Rohit Kapoor, who serves as vice president of product research for National Dairy Council and manages this competition. “Most of these students will have multiple job options and companies will look at this on their resume as a strong point. It enhances their marketability and helps the U.S. dairy industry tap into these students who went through this competition and displayed a strong research and development skill set with dairy.”
The contest has a different theme each year that is based on consumer trends. Kapoor said gaming was an obvious choice and aligns with checkoff-led strategies to reach younger consumers who are strongly engaged in this platform. He said 94 percent of young people play video games and 90 percent ages 21-35 regularly eat food and drink while gaming.
The Utah State team said its winning product is perfect for gamers who want a mess-free experience. Moba Boba comes in a can and contains two parts: a carbonated pineapple flavored energy drink made from acid whey, whey phospholipid protein concentrate and 2-percent milk. It also features high-protein coconut-flavored boba gummies that provide a fun texture.
The students are especially excited about its product’s sustainability aspect, which they say should resonate well with peers who use this as a factor with purchase decisions. The product upcycles acid whey from the production of cottage cheese and yogurt.
Marsh, who serves as team captain, said acid whey has been a challenge for dairy companies to upcycle because its high mineral content makes it difficult to dispose of and its acidic flavor was not very palatable. But they hit on a formula they feel would resonate with gamers because of its taste, nutrition, energy and sustainability components.
“Products made sustainably are emerging for sure,” Marsh said. “There are more products using upcycled ingredients and you’re even seeing labels that say a product is third-party certified as upcycled.
“(Moba Boba) shines a positive light because the dairy industry gets a lot of media attention on not being sustainable. So being able to say we’re making dairy more sustainable and using this waste is beneficial and something we’re really proud of.”
Teammate Chandler Stafford added, “People can say our product puts their mind at ease because it’s good for the environment but it’s also healthy. It has a shorter ingredient list that they can understand, and the label is physically appealing.
“You see people shy away from dairy and turn to alternative milks. We think it’s great that we developed a product that kind of brings dairy back a little bit.”
Anand Rao, vice president of ingredients innovation for Agropur US Operations, has annually served as a judge for the competition and was impressed by this year’s entries.
“Moba Boba checked all of the boxes of convenience, taste, overall nutrition balance and sustainable packaging,” Rao said. “I have worked in the dairy industry for a long time and this competition always shows me the promise of the future. It brings in innovative concepts that we don’t even think about sometimes. I’m glad National Dairy Council is taking the lead for this very important aspect of our future.”
Some dairy farmers also served as contest judges, including Alex Peterson from Missouri, who is chair of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board.
“The concept of the competition aligns very nicely with the broader checkoff strategy of showing Gen Z consumers how dairy can fit into their lifestyle,” Peterson said. “As impressed as I was with the products they all produced, the pitches and marketing were incredible. There is a bright hope for dairy food science and this competition brings it to light.”
The second-place Iowa State team created Combo Puffs, which are ready-to-eat, mess-free, sweet and savory protein-filled cream puff-inspired snacks, powered by dairy. Students from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona took third with their PogBites, a convenient, frozen and re-heatable snack with a mozzarella and dairy-based sauce filling and a crunchy vegetable coating.
There is no guarantee these products will reach the marketplace, but Kapoor says it’s not out of the question as attention grows about these students’ innovations.
“Processors take note of this competition and we have seen them reaching out to university advisors or team captains in the past to inquire about them and to see if there is a way to commercialize the ideas,” Kapoor said. “If nothing else, they provide inspiration, which can lead to other things.”
To learn more about the U.S. dairy industry, visit www.usdairy.com.