Published on 05/15/17

Georgia 4-H'ers develop new snacks to help fill supermarket shelves and supply new market niches

By Merritt Melancon

Vegan marshmallows, dairy-free cheese crackers and locally sourced baked treats — the highlights of Georgia 4-H’s 2017 Food Product Development Contest read like a list of the top food trends of 2017.

Inspired by the dietary needs and interests of their friends and neighbors, three teams of Georgia 4-H’ers met at the University of Georgia Department of Food Science and Technology in Athens, Georgia, last week to showcase their newly developed food products.

“Vegan marshmallows, dairy-free cheese crackers — this is where things are headed,” Chef Jorge Noriega, executive chef of UGA Dining Services, told the 4-H’ers who gathered for the finals on May 12. “As a chef, I can’t comprehend why anyone would want a dairy-free cracker, but that’s me as a chef, and I can’t think about just myself. I have to think about my customer base, and that’s what you guys are doing.”

The contest requires each team of senior Georgia 4-H’ers to develop a novel food product as well as a full marketing plan and production and distribution plan for that product. Food industry and food science experts then rate each team’s presentation based on the product’s potential success in the market.

Some of the teams, like Floyd County 4-H Club’s “S’mores n One” team, have worked on perfecting their recipes and plans all year. Other teams, like the Chatham County 4-H’s GAP2 team, with their Georgia-grown scone and muffin hybrid, the “scuffin,” have worked on their food product for the past three years.

This year the GAP2 team won first place in the state competition with their line of “scuffins,” which include blueberries, peanuts, peaches and ginger, all sourced from southeast Georgia.

The team conceived their baked goods line in 2014 and have been tweaking their marketing plan and recipe ever since.

“The third time is the charm, and we finally won,” said team member Faythe Robinson, a senior at Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, Georgia. “It feels like the heaviest weight has been lifted.”

The Savannah-based team includes Robinson; Ashley Johnson, a junior at Savannah Arts Academy; Anna Morris, a home-schooled student with dual enrollment at Armstrong State University; Amari McDonald, a senior at Woodville-Tompkins High School with dual enrollment at Point University in West Point, Georgia; and Sonte Davis, a senior at Savannah Early College High School with dual enrollment at Savannah State University.

“These youth are well on their way to careers in food development,” said UGA Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development specialist Cheryl Varnadoe, who has organized the contest for more than a decade. “We hope that many of them will choose to attend UGA and study food science.”

For more information about the wide range of programs offered by Georgia 4-H, visit

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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