WSU News: By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC
MOSES LAKE, Wash. – Some cookies were too sweet and others too dry, moist or just blah. But after nearly six months of research and development, students in Susan Moberg’s culinary arts class at Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center are hoping the oatmeal cookie served up at a food trade show in South Korea this week will be just right.
Matt Kunz, vice president of foreign market development for Zaycon Foods (https://www.zayconfresh.com/) in Spokane, Wash., will be handing out the cookies at the Seoul Food and Hotel show while also promoting his company’s products, including meats, dried fruit and bagels.
Matching a non-American palate
Lead baker Catriona Linville, 18, said her team tested dozens of recipes to find the right combination of ingredients that would yield a thin cookie that was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and not too sweet.
She’s got a binder filled with meticulous records of their experiments with different sweeteners, flours, fats, proportions and baking temperatures.
“It’s been a very long process,” she said. “Even though you may have a failure, you can turn it into a success by learning from it.”
Her team searched for ingredients that were organic, not genetically modified and, when possible, local, Linville said. The flour for the cookie, for example, is from Joseph’s Grainery in Colfax, Wash.
In the end, she said, the two cookies they chose for the trade show weren’t necessarily the popular choice of her fellow students. But they were the versions that most closely matched the taste profile they’d been asked to develop: “South Koreans have a different palate” than Americans, she said.
Students practice product development
The journey to Seoul started last fall when Kunz was at an international trade fair in Seattle and met with a buyer from South Korea who was searching for a not-too-sweet frozen oatmeal cookie dough.
Zaycon Food’s domestic market is focused on fresh meats sold online direct to consumers. But Kunz has been working with Vern Jenkins, an export trade specialist at the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to build an export market that includes dried fruit and bagels as well.
Kunz had little interest in tracking down frozen oatmeal cookie dough, he said, but he did mention the request to Jenkins, who was on his way to a meeting at Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center (http://cbtech.moseslakeschools.org/pages/Columbia_Basin_Tech_Skills). Both Jenkins and SBDC business advisor Allan Peterson are on the center’s advisory board and mentor students on entrepreneurship, small business and international trade.
Funding for the $19 million skills center was approved by the state legislature in 2009 and it opened its doors in June. Skills centers are intended to provide students with hands-on training for the workforce that goes beyond traditional vocational education classes. The Columbia Basin center offers programs in culinary arts, construction, health careers, manufacturing, pre-engineering, multicraft pre-apprentice, website design, entrepreneurship and more.
When Jenkins mentioned the request for frozen oatmeal cookie dough at the center’s first advisory board meeting, teacher Vance Frost jumped on the opportunity for students to do some real-time product development.
Education ties to community businesses
Frost, a successful entrepreneur and small business owner before becoming an instructor, teaches the “design thinking” course and is responsible for building connections between the center and the business community.
“To be successful in a skills center you need to have someone focused on industry connections,” he said, because students have to be able to see real-world applications of what they are learning.
That focus was what prompted Frost to invite both Peterson and Jenkins to be on the center’s advisory board. Peterson has been a small business advisor in Moses Lake for more than 10 years. His position is funded by the Washington SBDC and the Grant County Economic Development Council.
The Washington SBDC (http://wsbdc.org/) receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Washington State University and other institutions of higher education and economic development.
“I’m sort of the school’s pipeline to the small business community,” Peterson said. In addition to working with Zaycon Foods, other student groups have been working on a marketing project with SilverBow Honey, a Moses Lake-based honey packing company, and with the Washington Potato Commission to come up with a healthier alternative to French fries.
Research opens global markets
Peterson, who visits the school to talk with students about once a month, said the cookie project with Zaycon Foods, “is a win-win-win.”
“You’ve got these kids collaborating with students in other departments in a very real-world experience,” he said. “We see some real transformations happening.”
For instance, long before the baking started, a team of entrepreneur students researched the market potential for oatmeal cookies in South Korea, including barriers to market.
One challenge they discovered is that few homes in South Korea have ovens, meaning the retail market for frozen cookie dough would be small. They decided the target market for their Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies would be cafes and coffee houses with commercial ovens.
“These are cookies for the Starbucks crowd,” said Moberg, the culinary arts teacher.
Throughout the project, she said, she has been impressed with the students’ seriousness of purpose and commitment to the project.
Kunz said he is impressed with students and the school in general and is excited about collaborating with them on a viable export product.
“It’s a great opportunity to expose these students to the global market,” he said. “Our world is so much bigger than we realize.”
Asia looking to U.S. suppliers
If the feedback from the trade show is successful, students at Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center could be sitting down with Jenkins, the international trade expert, to figure out next steps.
“This type of collaboration between Zaycon Foods, Joseph’s Grainery and CBTECH students is a great example of how students and small businesses can collaborate to boost export trade,” Jenkins said. “Much of the growing middle class in Asia’s emerging consumer markets is increasingly looking to the U.S. for high quality, safe food products.”
Allan Peterson, Washington SBDC advisor, 509-762-6040, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vern Jenkins, Washington SBDC export trade specialist, 509-358-7998, email@example.com