Editor: High-res images of the photos of the snack and the team are available. Contact Martha Filipic at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Five Ohio State University graduate students are heading to Anaheim, Calif., June 6-9, hoping their concept of a "Buzz Lightyear Star Command Snack" will open doors for them in the magical kingdom of food science.
Last February, the team entered a product development competition co-sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association and Disney Consumer Products. Participating teams were challenged to develop a nutritious, unique and innovative food or beverage item designed for retail or food service and intended for children under age 12.
The Ohio State team, all graduate students in the Department of Food Science and Technology in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, is one of six finalists in the contest. The team will present its concept and sample snacks at the competition, held in conjunction with the Institute of Food Technologists' annual meeting.
Two winning teams (one undergraduate and one graduate) will each win $2,500, a Disney trophy, and a VIP tour of Disneyland Park. Even better: There's a chance, however slight, that Disney Consumer Products will be so taken with the idea that it will produce the snack item for sales at Disney parks and in grocery stores nationwide.
"In a couple years, I'd love to walk into Kroger's and see it being sold," said Joe Jones, team member and a food microbiology/food safety graduate student in the second year of his Master's program.
When the competition was first announced in November, the team members didn't take long to settle on a Buzz Lightyear-themed snack.
"There's a third Toy Story movie coming out next year, and a new Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney," said Andrew Wassinger, a food microbiology student earning his doctorate studying the food-borne bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes. "And, Disney is re-releasing the first two Toy Story movies in 3-D soon."
The team decided to take the theme to the extreme and package their snack -- star- and moon-shaped crackers with peanut-butter banana and chocolate cherry dipping sauces -- in a disposable wristband container.
"It's like Buzz Lightyear's wrist communicator," said Gerald Sigua, a Master's student studying use of sanitizers in food service establishments.
One of the requirements of the competition was that each entry had to incorporate a fruit or vegetable. The Ohio State team did both: ingredients in the peanut butter sauce include bananas and butternut squash; the chocolate sauce contains cherries and prunes. The crackers themselves contain sweet potatoes and beets as well as whole wheat flour. In fact, each serving of the Buzz Lightyear snack qualifies as a half-serving of fruits and vegetables as well as a half-serving of whole grains.
The end result is something team members are proud of. They modified the product several times until it was ready for testing.
"The crackers initially were really hard," Jones said.
"For the crackers, we tried different combinations of vegetables," said Jennifer Perry, a third-year Ph.D. student in food microbiology. "Our initial idea of using spinach didn't work out very well."
"The spinach gave the crackers a really strong flavor," Jones said.
"And a strong smell," added Setsuko Kamotani, who is earning her Master's degree this June. "We were hoping it would dissipate, but it didn't." Besides the sweet potatoes and beets, the crackers are made of a combination of different flours and have a honey coating.
The team initially tried to use strawberries in the chocolate sauce, but the cherry and prune combination worked out better. They also initially used dark chocolate, but during their first sensory test, at the Lazelle Recreation Center, they realized that children prefer milk chocolate. Also during that test, the peanut butter sauce didn't score as high as they would have liked; they sweetened it just a bit, and a second sensory test, this time at an after-school program in Hilliard, all three snack components received high marks.
The team used the pilot plant in the college's Food Industries Center to make the crackers, and prepared the sauces in their home kitchens. While they have high hopes for the Disney competition, several are also presenting scientific poster sessions at the conference based on their research at Ohio State.
Caption for team photo: Five Ohio State graduate students are finalists in a product development competition co-sponsored by Disney Consumer Products and will take their idea for "Buzz Lightyear's Star Command Snacks" to the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists in Anaheim in early June. Team members are, standing, Andrew Wassinger, Joe Jones, Gerald Sigua, and sitting, Setsuko Kamotani and Jennifer Perry.