The Salt of the Industry: BYU's Food Science Capstone Project

NDFS undergraduate students team up and learn what it means to take part in the food industry.

By Rachel Taylor

With the average supermarket carrying over 30,000 unique products, it’s clear that businesses in the food industry are working hard to put a variety of products on the shelf. A number of students at BYU are joining this force as they work to create food products for national companies. These students are able to expand their reach beyond the BYU campus as they learn to collaborate with other food scientists in synergistic research. The payoff for their hard work comes when they see their creations on a local grocery store shelf. Salt

The food product development class is the capstone course for food science majors. Students spend the semester working in small groups to develop products for various national companies. The products these students develop include anything from hot fudge sauce, to instant macaroni and cheese, to protein energy drinks, to powdered egg replacements. The course is taught each winter and usually consists of twenty-five to thirty senior students. The class meets for two three-hour labs each week, with an additional hour of lecture. During these lectures, Professors Michael Dunn and Lynn Ogden, each with many years of experience in different branches of the food industry, are able to provide valuable advice and support to the students. As Dr. Dunn describes it, “The class is an opportunity for me to tell the students exactly what I wished I had known.”

During the course, students work directly with clients from around the country, from Hires Big H, a restaurant based in Sandy, Utah, to General Mills, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of the largest food companies in the world. Through e-mails, video calls, and occasional personal visits, students are able to build relationships with these companies and expand their networks. Dr. Loren Ward, Director of Research for Glanbia Nutritionals, says that the students act as an extension of the Glanbia Nutritionals development team and that the consistent quality of research he has seen from BYU is what keeps him coming back to this program.

Creating a food product is an intensive process, requiring many taste tests by the professors and an independent consumer panel. The students conduct a number of lab tests throughout their creation process, and by the end of the semester, they are ready to present final samples and a hefty project portfolio to their clients. During one of these final taste panels, Mauresa Bastian was nervous to get feedback from the testers as they sampled her group’s product alongside a similar existing product from the same company. Bastian was relieved when her team’s product won. In the end, it was significantly more preferred than the other product.

Because of these “real-world” experiences, the majority of the students are able to find job opportunities quickly after or even before graduation. Ogden finds gratification in the fact that these students are all “salting our industry with high morals and representing the gospel.” The students of food science all hope that their leadership and willingness to continue learning will enhance both their personal lives and their careers. These unique experiences offered to students before graduation help them solidify their career plans in product development. For them, this ultimate collaborative experience ends in hearing the words “Now available at a supermarket near you!”