The Almond Board of California (ABC) has announced the winners of its Tastemaker Trials student competition, which invited university students to create delicious almond-based snacks that tap into the consumer trend of "intentional indulgence" and appeal to younger generations' snacking needs.

Ciara Danay Hernandez and Brianna Price, food science majors from California State University in Fresno, were named this year's winners by a panel of judges with expertise in food, culinary science, and product marketing. Their product concept, Billion Dollar Energy Almond Brownie Energy Cups, combines almonds with pea protein crisps, cacao nibs, dates, and other plant-based ingredients to create a better-for-you, yet indulgent baked snack. According to the judges, the champion team demonstrated a well-rounded understanding of product development, branding, and marketing. The judges included Rachel Zemser,  Michael Freudenthal, and Vicky Li of A La Carte Connections; Henry Hill of Hill's Research Kitchen; and Guangwei Huang and Charice Grace of the ABC.

AlmondBoard_inside.jpgThe Tastemaker Trials challenged students to develop a new almond-based snack while considering AI-informed consumer trends from Tastewise as well as technical elements, nutrition, processing, and marketing. Tastewise is an AI-driven data platform that analyzes food and beverage data from social media, recipes, and more to provide real-time insights. Each team submitted written proposals, video pitches, recipes, and product samples for judges to evaluate. Students participated in a final Q&A with the judging panel, and the public was invited to vote on their favorite concept, which provided bonus points.

"This year's Tastemaker Trials submissions harnessed the spectrum of almond benefits including versatility, nutrition, and consumer appeal to create delicious and exciting products," says Charice Grace, manager of trade marketing and stewardship with the ABC. "The students demonstrated that almonds fulfill needs for intentional indulgence by not only supporting great-tasting products but also promoting health and sustainability."

The judges also recognized four finalist teams from Fresno State:

  • Almond Mousse Dippers, a portable, dippable snack pack that combines crisp, thinly rolled almond flour crackers with a fluffy and decadent almond mousse.
  • Break-IT-Brittle, a fun, shareable almond brittle that is vegan-friendly with a jalapeno flavor that offers a balance of sweet and spicy.
  • Breakfast In-a-Nutshell, an instant porridge that roasts and blends almonds to create an enjoyable texture and light crunch.
  • Waffley Nutty, an almond-based, gluten-free waffle inspired by the Liège waffle, it can be frozen and popped into the toaster.

"It's very important for students to learn through real-world examples and hands-on activities," says Dr. Jamie Levitt, the teams' advisor and assistant professor in Fresno State's Department of Food Science and Nutrition. "The Tastemaker Trials were a unique opportunity for students to showcase their creativity and problem-solving skills while gaining experience that will prepare them for future careers."

The Billion Dollar Energy team will receive a trip to IFT FIRST from July 14-17, 2024, and ongoing mentorship opportunities from the judges. Food industry members attending the show can visit the Almond Board of California's kiosk in the Startup Pavilion to meet this year's Tastemaker Trials winners and sample their concept.

Related: Innova report: 2024 snacking insights for almonds