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Peppermint partnership: N.C. State’s Food Science Club manufactures ice cream toppings at Research Campus

By Susan Shinn Turner

For the Salisbury Post

Bummed that you didn’t get Howling Cow ice cream at the N.C. State Fair this fall? Yeah, me too.

But never fear! The Food Science Club at N.C. State University has developed a line of toppings for your favorite bowl of Howling Cow or any other ice cream.

Scooping Howling Cow was the club’s flagship fundraiser each year, says Katharine Clark, the club’s vice president. “We realized it was likely in May that the fair would not happen. We started brainstorming how we could fundraise alternatively.”

They decided to sell T-shirts, and to host a silent auction in spring 2021. But the idea they thought had the biggest potential, Clark says, was to create a line of ice cream toppings.

They came up with nine products — chocolate sauce, peppermint chocolate sauce, ginger chili chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, bourbon caramel sauce, and cherry compote. In addition, they have hot chocolate and handmade marshmallows (regular and peppermint chocolate). All of the products were manufactured at the Pilot Plant of the N.C. Food Innovation Lab on the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.

The products are available now as pre-orders on the Food Science Club website, and will be available for shipping after Dec. 6. These make great Christmas gifts, Clark points out.

“When we started in August with just an idea, we had to get the ball rolling very quickly,” Clark says. “The lab has a certified space for manufacturing, so we reached out to them.”

Dr. Bill Aimutis is executive director, while Joe Hildebrand has been pilot plant manager since May.

“Joe and Bill were a huge help,” says Clark, a graduate student working toward a master’s degree in food science. “Joe helped us think through the entirety of the project with us.”

“We work with everybody, from a single person to a multinational corporation,” Hildebrand says. “The food science program is close to my heart.”

Hildebrand graduated from N.C. State and was a Food Science Club president. “We are part of the university, so it all fell together nicely. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and learn versus putting that knowledge into practice. It was a learning experience for everybody. It was a great experience to be involved with students at the main campus.”

Clark chaired a product development committee which met virtually beginning in August. They proposed recipes and did their own testing.

“It’s not a slow process,” She notes. “We tested our samples and chose recipes based on which were the safest. Because of COVID, packaging is a really big issue right now.”

Along with food safety, the club members learned a lot about labels, and what’s required to be on a label. That includes a name, weight, list of ingredients, the manufacturer’s address, and refrigeration instructions.

“There’s a lot of things you just take for granted as a consumer,” Clark says.

“Food safety is the second-most regulated industry behind the pharmaceutical industry,” Hildebrand says. “Food safety is always a concern. It’s not a constant thing on the consumer’s mind, but it is for manufacturers.”

The labels, designed by senior Ethan Meirow, sport a clean, modern look — plus drawings of some of the chemical compounds included in each product.

“It was a way we could tie in food science to the products that people see in stores every day,” he says. “It was a way we could connect people with food science that they could understand.”

For Meirow, the label design was a way to participate while working from home. Working through the FDA guidance materials, he says, “was an eye-opening process for me.”

Meirow worked with other students during the production process in Kannapolis.

“I’m absolutely stoked with how the labels came out,” he says. “Looking back at where we started to where we ended was amazing. It was a collaborative process to put all our ideas into the labels. Every step of the process has been a collaboration with a lot of club members.”

From the beginning, this was a student-led initiative. Production took place during two full weekends in November with all-student volunteers. Hildebrand was onsite during the process, while Aimutis met with the group during the first day.

“It’s been like launching a business,” Clark says. “We’re going to make some money — not as much as we make at the state fair — but the experience will more than make up for it.”

Clark says the club is already thinking about offering the products next year.

“It’s a great exercise for the product development team,” she says. “We might even offer a special-edition product. We’ve already got some other ideas.”

Sauces are $5.99, the hot chocolate mix is $7.99, and the handmade marshmallows are $3.99. There are also gift boxes available beginning at $30.

To place your order, visit ncsufsc.com and click on Store.

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