Published on 05/24/07

Peanut-flour muffins win 4-H food product contest

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

A sweet Georgia product took home top honors at the fourth annual 4-H Food Product Development Contest May 19 in Athens, Ga.

After losing last year by one point to a group from Bartow County, Tift County 4-H’ers Josie Smith, Michael Luo, Matthew Robinson and Samantha Tankersley came back to the contest hungry for a win.

Their "Sweet Georgia Nuttins" are "peanut flour-based muffins that serve as a high-protein food that's good to eat on-the-go with a cold glass of milk or a hot cup of coffee," the team said about their product.

"They were very polished, very prepared," said Cheryl Varnadoe, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H youth specialist.

"It did help that they had been in the contest before, because they knew what to improve on," she said. "They flavored their product differently, with chocolate chips, this year, instead of butterscotch chips. They had everything we asked for on the scorecard. It was a really nice product and great presentation."

Their coaches were Tift County Extension agent Judy Bland and 4-H volunteer Lisa Smith.

"It was fun watching the 4-H'ers experiment with different products and then tasting them," Smith said. "I am constantly amazed at their creative ideas for marketing and promotion."

The contest was designed, in part, to introduce high school students to food science and make them aware of the job opportunities for food science graduates.

"The food industry doesn't have enough food scientists," said Robert Shewfelt, a professor and undergraduate coordinator in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences food science and technology department. "And, it's not just Georgia. This is a nationwide problem."

The contest was the brainchild of CAES student recruitment coordinator Brice Nelson. He teamed with Varnadoe, Shewfelt and Extension food specialist Jim Daniels five years ago to get it started.

"I got behind it because we're really looking to get more people involved in food science," Shewfelt said.

UGA's enrollment in food science has increased in recent years, and they hope this contest will bring in more recruits. Some of the 4-H students in the competition say they are considering food science as a career. Shewfelt believes it’s important that they're talking about it.

"We're getting the message out by word-of-mouth," he said. "It gets the message to more people."

Since the contest began, judges have seen products ranging from flavored marshmallows to granola-style treats.

This year, second place honors went to Bleckley County with their "Go Go Java Joe Bars," a product "which could go on the market now," Varnadoe said.

Third place was a tie between Madison County, with their "Nut Clusters," and Taylor County, with their "Healthy Homerun Granola Bites." Spalding County was fourth with "Friscuits."

Friscuits, Shewfelt said, are like jelly donuts, except instead of donut pastry, they used a biscuit.

"The judges really liked the Friscuits idea," Varnadoe said. She tells students, "Just because you don't do well in competition, doesn't mean it's not a good idea. If you believe in your product, you can get it on the market."

Judges this year were Daniels; George Cavender, a master's-level graduate student in food science and technology; and Emily Wise, a food science graduate who now works at Chick-Fil-A.

The contest allows students to go through the phases of putting out a new product, from coming up with an idea and making the food to packaging and marketing it.

The program also teaches students the value of teamwork. "They get really creative," she said. "It was really cool to see all they chose to do."

The contest, sponsored by a grant from the CAES Eterna Fund, "could be a great benefit to industry," Shewfelt said. "I really believe in it."

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.