Food Science Seniors Create Dishes for Simmons Foods in Product Innovation Class

Students in the Product Innovation for Food Scientists class created chicken dishes for a panel of senior managers for research and development with Simmons Foods.
Micayla Blair

Students in the Product Innovation for Food Scientists class created chicken dishes for a panel of senior managers for research and development with Simmons Foods.

Students in U of A's Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences recently presented chicken products they developed in a senior capstone class to representatives from Simmons Foods Inc.

The students, all food science majors, created dishes as part of the Product Innovation for Food Scientists class, which is being taught by Philip Crandall, professor of retail food safety in the Department of Food Science.

In this class, students integrate knowledge gained from all their undergraduate courses in their degree program to develop a novel food product.

"I was very impressed with the professional way our students made the most of this wonderful opportunity to work alongside professionals in new product development," Crandall said. "Food science provides great opportunities for students interested in science, engineering and math to have an exciting career in the food industry while making consumers' lives better."

Three three-member teams were formed. In developing their dishes, many factors were taken into consideration, including several from the article "The Top 10 Food Trends of 2021" published in the Institute of Food Technologists Food Technology magazine:

  • In 2020, new food and drink line extensions declined 29 percent;
  • One-third of restaurant operators said they planned to reduce the number of items on their menus;
  • Product developers should innovate around macro trends of self-care, disease prevention, home-centered living and creative ways of celebrating special occasions;
  • Consumers have turned to food to help manage and treat conditions; foods and beverages that help control hypertension (11 percent), weight gain (13 percent) and diabetes (14 percent) all increased;
  • One-third of adults were likely to buy food or drink with multiple health benefits;
  • Fermented foods topped the list of trendy superfoods, and turmeric was in a group of botanicals leading the sales market;
  • Sales of foods with low-carbohydrate, ketogenic, paleo, Whole30 Diet or low-glycemic properties soared;
  • Six in 10 consumers were looking for minimally processed foods; only nine percent were looking for more lab-grown proteins;
  • One-third of consumers were looking forward to trying new global foods or flavors with 42 percent seeking spicy foods;
  • Seven in 10 adults want more frozen meal options with fruits and/or vegetables; and
  • Frozen sandwiches were fast-emerging lunch solutions, and there was greater demand for more premium/specialty foods for restaurant-style meals.

Brian Davis, vice president of research and development at Simmons, worked with Crandall to develop the projects for the class.

"It's all about connecting the dots," Davis said. "It's not about the product; it's about the journey of learning the product development process."

Team 1 consisted of Jacob Acuna of Allen, Texas; Aryn Blumenberg from Conway, Arkansas; and Mallory Hordyke from Frankfort, Illinois. Team 2 was Bailey Bland of Phoenix, Arizona; Christopher Stuckey of Marion, Arkansas; and Kierra Weber of Anderson, Missouri. Team 3 was Chris Akel of Charlotte, Arkansas; Alana Patterson of Austin, Texas; and Danika Nottiage, a laboratory teaching assistant.

Each team was assigned an executive adviser from Simmons, with Devon Cameron-Nubbie working with Team 1, Brad Cheatham with Team 2 and Micca Brown with Team 3. All three are senior managers for research and development.

"I learned how many trials it takes to come up with a minimum viable product," said Patterson, about her biggest takeaway from the project. "We solved problems - from getting breading to stick or if your product is done on the outside, but raw inside, or something else."

Team 1 created a frozen, microwaveable Thai chicken satay dish with rice and peanut sauce. Research showed there are few frozen Thai options, many microwaveable meals have long cook times, no chicken satay dishes were found in grocery stores and consumers are interested in healthy and frozen microwaveable meals with a short cook time, which the team feels is a potential pain point for consumers.

"The most difficult part of the process was targeting specifically what product we wanted to make," said Blumenberg. "Going to Simmons and using their kitchen and seeing how products are made was the most fun."

Team 2 focused on creating a healthier option for Slim Chickens. Research revealed consumers are interested in healthier options following the COVID-19 pandemic, Slim Chickens offered 15 items with no grilled or boneless wing options and grilled chicken menu choices are typically only for salads and sandwiches, which the group feels was a potential pain point that may have a substantial demand.

The group created air-fried, breaded (instead of battered) boneless chicken wings air-fried for five minutes then fried a second time (to order), which takes four minutes. The team also created a teriyaki sauce, a flavor not currently available at this restaurant.

"If compared to their bone-in wings, ours have about a 20 percent reduction in calories per wing," Weber said. "If you include the sauce, we estimated the sauce adds about 70 calories per wing."

Team 3 also focused on Slim Chickens and created fully cooked, fried chicken thigh portions. The group settled on this item because it would be a new menu option (current offerings are tenders, wings and sandwiches), a current shortage of wings and lower demand for thighs. The team developed a specially-cut thigh which resembles a boneless wing and can be par-fried then oven-baked with two thighs having 350 calories. Their product could be competively priced compared to wings.

"The biggest issue was the cooking method," Akel said. "When we fried them, since thighs are fattier, the fat melted, got in the oil and made them too dark, so we switched up our method. I really enjoyed this class and am grateful to be able to receive hands-on training from the professioanls at Simmons Foods."

About the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences: Bumpers College provides life-changing opportunities to position and prepare graduates who will be leaders in the businesses associated with foods, family, the environment, agriculture, sustainability and human quality of life; and who will be first-choice candidates of employers looking for leaders, innovators, policy makers and entrepreneurs. The college is named for Dale Bumpers, former Arkansas governor and longtime U.S. senator who made the state prominent in national and international agriculture. For more information about Bumpers College, visit our website, and follow us on Twitter at @BumpersCollege and Instagram at BumpersCollege.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas' economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the top 3% of U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.


Robby Edwards, director of communications
Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences


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