October 11, 2022, by Lexi Earl
Crack(er)ed it! Food Science students win Ecotrophelia UK finals
Megan Holden, Katy Tolson, Laura Hill and Kieran Spouge were the winning team from UoN at the UK Ecotrephelia competition finals. Ecotrephelia is a competition for the creation of eco-innovative food products. The team are final year Food Science & Nutrition (Megan, Katy and Laura) and Food Science (Kieran) students. We spoke to them about the competition, how they came up with their product ideas, and whether they would repeat the experience.
Tell me a little about the competition. How did you get involved?
Ecotrephelia is a food science innovation competition. It is run across Europe in multiple countries, mostly entered by university students in teams (of between 2 and 10 people). You have to create a new product from scratch that is eco-innovative, sustainable, healthy. Over 500 students have been involved since it began running in the UK in 2013. We created a product in partnership with Peacock Farm based in Leicestershire. They create food products from the produce of their farm, including honey, rapeseed oils, and for us, the most interesting, was their flavoured vinegars. They make vinegars that are raspberry, strawberry and blackberry flavoured by soaking the fruit in vinegar and pressing that out. The solid remains of the fruit that were left behind were going to waste so we decided to take that material and turn it into our product – a fruit and oat cracker.
To enter the competition initially we had to create a technical dossier, which was a 20-page document which detailed everything from company values, marketing materials, promotional strategies, factory layout, new product development, ingredients, processing methods, and finances. We entered that into the UK competition and that got us to the final. At the final we presented in front of 10 judges (industry professionals) and they chose us to represent the UK at the final in October in Paris.
How did you come up with the idea?
We were thinking first, how do we get rid of the vinegar flavour of the fruit pulp because it was so strong and it tasted unpleasant. We knew we would have to bake it into something because we could remove some of the vinegary-ness through baking (because vinegar is a volatile substance). So, we looked at a baked product. But it is also not the sweetest fruit so we tried to think whether we could move it towards something savoury, rather than sweet. That got us on the route of crackers. Originally, we thought we might have a chutney flavoured cracker, because it is fruit and vinegar, you could pair it with cheese. We also did a lot of market research into cracker trends and future predictions for crackers and we found that a flavoured cracker was something that consumers are interested in because they are moving away from having crackers and cheese as an after dinner treat and it is more something people want to enjoy as a snack or with their lunch, as an alternative to crisps.
What have you learnt from the experience?
We all found where we thrive in a team situation, where our expertise lies, and also the importance of time keeping. Laura was our number one time manager and guide. Teamwork was our biggest thing – we kept saying to everyone ‘it’s so good how we are all interested in a different aspect of the project’. None of us really had overlapping interests. Kieran is very micro, Laura was finance and nutrition, Megan is marketing, and Katy is very technical so it was a good diverse team. All of us grew in teamworking skills.
What do you have to do to prepare for finals in October?
A lot of it centres around making the product more suitable for a European market, rather than just a British market. We are expecting feedback from the judges from the final in the UK.
Did you get a chance to see what the competition were doing at the British finals?
There was a group that created a cereal bar, also using fruit. A raw granola. There was a pizza base made out of pea. Apple crumble using leftover soy bean material. They were all really really good. Lots of things we hadn’t heard of.
Having to think about creating products that are sustainable, healthy and eco-friendly, was that something you were familiar with or not?
It is just the way that the market is moving at the moment. People aren’t looking for something that is unhealthy. Everyone is super aware that their food choices have an effect not only on the environment but also on themselves. And apps are popping up all over the place so you can measure how sustainable your food choices are. People are always wanting to be healthier so it would be silly to make a cracker with a huge carbon footprint, that is full of fat and sugar, because no one would want it. It would probably be absolutely delicious! But no one wants that. That has bled into the teaching on our course. Whenever we cover a food product, they’ll often ask: but what is wrong with it? Sustainability!
Would you enter the competition again?
I think so! It was so much work at the time but I think what we all have gotten out of it since then has made it worthwhile.
We all said how much we did enjoy the day. Leading up to it was really hard work. I think we were all a bit surprised at how much we enjoyed it, even giving the presentation, because we loved the product by the end of it we did enjoy talking about it which I don’t think we would’ve said back in October.
If you’d asked us in February when everything was going wrong and our product wasn’t working, then it would be different but now we are all very happy we did it.
The team will travel to the finals in Paris at the end of this week to compete! Find the team on Instagram.
Find out more about Food Science here.
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