Hormel researcher leads R-STEP students through new food product development

Published 7:22 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2021

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Riverland Science Technology Engineering Preparatory (R-STEP) Academy is an eight-week program for students aged 16-22 to receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-based college credit and learn about how STEM is applied in our local and regional communities.

Hormel Foods Research and Development (R&D) Research Scientist-Innovations Tony Muller demonstrated to the R-STEP Academy class how his team uses STEM in new food product development. Tony presented an overview of how his career has utilized STEM in the dynamic food industry.

“How we make food may not appear on the surface as a rapidly changing environment,” Mueller said. “However, there are constantly new ingredients and new technologies being introduced into the marketplace that allow us to create new types of food offerings to meet the consumer’s desire for nutritious food. Everybody needs food to survive, and they want to enjoy the food they consume!”

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Mueller’s R&D team led the R-STEP Academy students through the design process for a high-protein peanut butter-based bar. The students worked in Riverland’s Food Science Laboratory using the criteria Hormel’s R&D team compiled based on consumer trends.

Tony Mueller walks an R-STEP Academy student through the beginning phases of the high-protein bar’s development. Photos provided

Mueller’s work requires an understanding of mathematics, food ingredients and food processing, which are critical skills involving STEM. Food is constantly changing and evolving due to consumer trends and preferences.

“Staying ahead of the game requires the use of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so we can satisfy the consumer demand for nutritious, appealing and healthy food products,” he said.

This session allowed the R-STEP Academy students to see the application of what they learn in the college courses they take.

The students were given specific parameters to follow when making the protein bars. The bars were to be designed for the refrigerated section of a retail market outlet. Each 40g bar was to contain 10g of protein and the number of ingredients was to be limited to as few ingredients as possible. The students were divided into two teams to work on two different bar varieties that met the outlined requirements while possessing consumer eye appeal.

The students used mathematics to determine the protein content of each ingredient to create bar samples with the correct protein level. The students also used science to determine which ingredients to use and how to process or blend the ingredients to form a suitable protein bar.

“We used science in making sure fats, proteins, and others were combined to make the right product,” said Sarah Wangen, R-STEP Academy student

The students used food laboratory equipment  to create a bar that met the criteria specified by Mueller’s R&D team. The students also used walk-in freezers and coolers to chill the product to the right consistency.

“These processes involved us using technology to mix and find the right ratio for each ingredient,” said Jaden May, another R-STEP Academy student

After the chilling process, each R-STEP Academy team properly packaged the high protein bar so that it would be wholesome for consumption.

“It was enjoyable to have the students take part in an experience like this because they are able to apply what they learn and understand the important roles that STEM plays in various fields, including new food production,” said R-STEP Academy Coordinator Nick Schiltz.

By the conclusion of the session, the students had created high protein bars that met consumer preferences and were ready for consumption!

“A very special thanks to Tony and the Hormel Foods Research and Development team for showing the students how STEM is used,” Schiltz said. “The students learned about careers and pathways they never knew existed. I am confident they will be watching the shelves at the grocery stores very closely soon so they can find the bars they helped design and test!”