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April 26, 2007

Purdue students cook up $10,000 creation for Sara Lee

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A team of Purdue University students created a new food product that claimed top honors and a $10,000 prize in the Sara Lee Innovation Award competition on April 12.

Aimed at sparking culinary creativity while educating students on the process of creating, producing and marketing a new food product, the award was offered for the first time this year to Purdue students.

The winning team created a new mousse cake product, similar to a cheesecake. Students planned a marketing approach via the Internet that would allow restaurants and general consumers to order and customize their cakes online. Choices would include a vanilla or chocolate base with a nearly unlimited number of flavors such as strawberry and lemongrass that could be swirled into the cake before shipping.

The Sophisticated Swirl team was made up of Katherine Gonzales, a foods and nutrition major; Whitney Prochno of DeMotte, Ind.; Tiffany Schieber of South Bend, Ind.; and Brad Scholten of Granville, Ohio. Prochno, Schieber and Scholten are all hospitality and tourism management majors.

Carl Behnke, chef instructor in hospitality and tourism management, served as the team's faculty adviser.

Three teams of finalists had 45 minutes to present its invention to a panel of judges composed of Sara Lee executives and Purdue professors.

The qualifying teams had 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 were 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 thought about these questions early on had 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.

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

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

The remaining two teams 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;

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