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Food Fight 2024 team members

L to R: winning team members Breanna Kaegi, Elena Rempel, Sarah Cromb and Paanav Alpeshkumar, along with organizer Crystal Jorgenson.

Students pitch tasty new products at UM Food Fight

March 25, 2024 — 

Seven student teams recently squared off in front of a panel of judges to pitch their unique food creations at the University of Manitoba Food Fight. The competition was held March 16 as part of the annual Discover Ag in the City public event, this year held at The Outlet Collection shopping mall for the first time. 

L to R: host Sue Clayton, judges Jim Agapito, Pina Romolo and Robin Young.

Students enrolled in the Food Product Development course (FOOD 4510) had five minutes to talk about their product selection, development and marketing plans. Many of this year’s products featured snack offerings, including treats like mochi-filled waffles, chocolate dipped lotus seeds, and air-fried lentil patties.

The judges included Pina Romolo, president and CEO of specialty food company Piccola Cucina, Robin Young, director of the Value Added Branch in Manitoba Agriculture and CEO of the Food Development Centre and Jim Agapito, CBC Radio journalist and podcaster. They asked each group questions about their product choices, from ingredients to packaging to potential markets.

“Being a judge in this year’s Food Fight was an amazing experience,” said Pina Romolo. “I was impressed with the level of innovation, creativity and preparation brought forward by the students.”

The 2024 Food Fight winning team was made up of Sarah Cromb, Paanav Alpeshkumar, Elena Rempel, and Breanna Kaegi, who designed a bite-size seasoned paneer cheese stick.

“After looking at the current market trends, we created Paneer Sizzlers. Trends indicated vegetarian and cultured infusion foods were listed high on market demands,” said team member Sarah Cromb.

“We created our paneer at the University of Manitoba’s dairy plant by infusing our specially designed spice blend into the cheese itself. We coated the paneer sticks with our pea protein and ground chickpeas coating. Our biggest challenge was to get our spice blend just right.  We also aimed for our product to have a high protein content.”

“Our team had such a fun time and we are thrilled with our success at the Food Fight. We are looking forward to improving our product with the feedback from the judges.”

Contestants food entries for Food Fight 2024Judge Pina Romolo added “The winning team, Paneer Sizzlers, was very well done.  The team had a very good understanding of taking a Southern Asian product and the need to adapt it to a North American market.  They also considered packaging, placement, and market research.  I look forward to seeing this product on shelves as I will be a frequent buyer.”

Course instructor Dr. Claudia Narvaez from the Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences notes that the Food Fight competition gives the students a chance to perfect their product before their final in-class presentation in April.

“In the food product development competition, teams have a unique chance to glean insights from the real-world expertise of the judges. Students are tasked with evaluating every aspect of their product, including safety, quality, packaging, and food supply, in addition to considering consumer trends and market demographics. Armed with feedback from the judges, teams return to the test kitchen to meticulously refine their products, striving for excellence.”


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