COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sometimes a glass of warm milk just doesn’t do the trick.
That’s one reason why a team of food science and technology students from The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences developed a honey-vanilla flavored milk beverage, “TranquiliBee,” for the National Dairy Council’s 2015 New Product Competition. The team is one of three finalists in the contest and will find out if it wins — and snags an $8,000 first prize — at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting in Chicago, July 11-14.
The dairy council designed this year’s contest, “Dairy Beverage Reinvented: Reinventing Milk to Increase Its Relevance to Millennial Consumers” to spur development of new products designed for young adults, said team member and master’s student Yang Song.
“They encouraged teams to come up with a ‘functional’ beverage,” Song said. “In addition to taste and texture, they wanted us to include some type of functional food attribute that can help consumers’ health.
“Almost immediately, we focused on a relatively new market, the relaxation drink market, that has rapid growth potential,” Song said.
Many of the team members happen to be natives of China and were aware that the relaxation beverage market has risen in popularity in their home country. But it has not yet taken off in the U.S.
“And besides, some of us have trouble getting to sleep at night, so we’re personally interested, too,” Song said.
The team overcame several challenges in perfecting their product. With a goal of offering an all-natural product to appeal to millennials, they bypassed popular sleep enhancer melatonin, which is synthetically made, and chose valerian root extract and theanine, an extract of green tea, as the active ingredients in TranquiliBee.
TranquiliBee is also a protein-enriched beverage, and team members tried several different protein sources before they found one, whey protein isolate, that was soluble, didn’t increase the product’s viscosity, and could withstand the product’s heat treatment, said master’s student Huidong Huang.
Flavorings posed another challenge.
“We started out with a number of options — strawberry, blueberry, watermelon and peach,” Huang said. “But we would have had to use synthetic powders to give our beverage those flavors, so we moved toward natural honey and vanilla extract.”
Another challenge was getting the proportions right for each ingredient.
“Almost every Tuesday, we held a ‘mixing party’ to find the right combination,” said doctoral student Bing Yan, admitting, “Not everything tasted good all the time.” They were able to make use of the pilot plant at the college’s Wilbur A. Gould Food Industries Center to formulate the product, and credit Gary Wenneker, pilot plant supervisor, for his time and assistance.
Shelf-life also was a concern.
“We decided to use ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurization because it can extensively increase your shelf-life, but that posed a huge challenge for our ingredients to withstand that processing,” Song said.
“The first time we tried it, we used the wrong protein source and clogged up the UHT machine.”
But the trial and error was worth it, he added. The end product is stable at room temperature for 21 days, and can be refrigerated for even longer storage.
Once the team developed several formulations, they used the services of the college’s Consumer Sensory Testing service to get feedback from consumers to finalize the product they submitted to the competition.
Once they were satisfied with the flavor, texture and other qualities of TranquiliBee -- did it work?
“Different team members have different experiences,” Song said. “For Bing and Sytske (Miedema, a senior), it seems like it’s almost instant. For me, if I’m already tired, then I sleep really well when I drink it. For Andy and Tony (Wolfe, a junior), it didn’t seem like it affects them.”
“But I think that’s because we didn’t drink enough,” Huang said. “And you know, it’s very difficult to measure the relaxation effect. But there are many established studies that show these two compounds help people with relaxation. We did extensive research on that.”
Whether TranquiliBee wins the competition or not, the team hopes their product someday will be available for purchase.
“It’s still a work in process,” Song said. “Give us enough time and resources, we can definitely push this further.”
The team’s expenses to attend IFT in Chicago are being paid for by the college’s Dairy Product Development Team Fund, supported with a generous gift from the American Dairy Association. Last year, Ohio State’s team won first place with Trifle Au Lait. In 2013, they placed in the top three with Whey-Go.
In 2015, second and third prize winners will be awarded $5,000 and $3,000, respectively.