March 21, 2007

Purdue, Sara Lee to cook up creativity with 'innovative' competition

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Three teams of Purdue University students will vie for a $10,000 top prize on April 12 at the Sara Lee Innovation Award competition. The competition will begin at 1:30 p.m. in Stewart Center, Room 202. Each team will have 45 minutes to present its invention to a panel of judges composed of Sara Lee executives and Purdue professors.

The qualifying teams have been working on their food inventions since late November, when Sara Lee Food and Beverage announced a partnership with Purdue in what it hopes will be an annual contest.

"The Innovation Award represents more than just a large financial award," said Connie Weaver, distinguished professor and head of Purdue's Department of Foods and Nutrition. "It gives our students the chance to create a new product and follow it through from conception to development. The award provides students with real-world experience and allows them to receive valuable feedback from Sara Lee executives even if they don't win the top prize."

The product created by the winning team also could end up on store shelves. In addition to criteria meant to evaluate each item's innovation and originality, products will be judged on potential marketability.

Heidi Kleinbach-Sauter, senior vice president of Sara Lee Research and Development in North America, said the Innovation Award encourages students to think about food products from all angles.

"We want students to think about all the aspects of bringing an innovative food or beverage to market," she said. "Does it taste good? Can it easily be mass-produced? Does it fit in with Sara Lee's other offerings? Does it fill a consumer need? What is the profit potential involved? Students who think about these questions early on will have a better chance at success."

Kleinbach-Sauter said Purdue was a natural choice as a partner for the competition.

"Purdue's food-related programs are well-known in industry," she said. "Choosing Purdue as the benefactor of this award gives Sara Lee access to those bright students for recruitment purposes as well as research and development."

Students from the sophomore to graduate level in four departments were eligible, including agricultural and biological engineering, foods and nutrition, food science, and hotel and tourism management.

Products were limited to Sara Lee's current product lines of bakery items, meats, sauces, dressings or coffee. Students will present finished products to the judges. The cooking of each item must be completed before the start of the contest.

Olivia Wood, chair of the Purdue committee overseeing the Innovation Award and an associate professor of foods and nutrition, said she is pleased with student participation.

"Among the three teams, we have representation from each of the four eligible departments," Wood said. "Students were encouraged to form interdisciplinary teams. I think Sara Lee will be impressed with the amount of effort and planning our students have put into this competition."

Wood said one team plans to present a cheesecake item, while the remaining two have created a bread item and a snack item, respectively.

Writer: Tanya Brown, (765) 494-2079,

Sources: Connie Weaver, (765) 494-8237,

Olivia Wood, (765) 494-8238,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Media are invited to attend the Sara Lee Innovation Award competition on April 12 in Stanley Coulter Hall, Room 202. Student teams will be available for interviews during the set-up period, between 1 p.m. and the start of the contest.

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