These JWU Interns Are Accelerating Plant-Based Product Innovation

From concept to commercialization, Chris Patillo '21 and Emilize Momplaisir '21 are helping make plant-based foods of the future. The pair landed JWU Charlotte’s first internships at the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL) in Kannapolis, N.C. The NCFIL is a fairly new Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) pilot plan accelerating plant-based food research, ideation, development and commercialization.

The Applied Food Science majors say the creative possibilities at the Lab are limitless. Both Patillo and Momplaisir help create innovative plant-based food items for clients including farmers, entrepreneurs, NC manufacturers, food companies and start-ups.

Leading in the Plant-Based Food Industry

“I’m part of a something that is leading the food industry in plant-based beverages and meat alternatives,” Patillo recently explained. “I’m working on an organic powdered fruit beverage and I’m omitting harmful and unnecessary ingredients and developing a 100% clean label. One is a mango, ginger and cayenne pepper [blend] and another is blueberry, mint and poppy seed. We ordered 5 different kinds of mint. We expect to see this on the market very soon — it’s so exciting.”

During a tour of the facility, Momplaisir excitedly exclaimed, “I feel like a kid in a candy store! Every day. I love it here. If you’re a food science nerd like me, this place is like Chuck E. Cheese!”

Cindy Calhoun, who serves as the Lab’s senior food scientist and product development leader, says she encourages Patillo and Momplaisir to experience everything they can at the lab. “I can’t tell you how great the JWU interns have been. They already have the tools to know about food safety and preparation, production and sanitation.”

“I can’t tell you how great the JWU interns have been. They already have the tools.”

Jodi Wood, JWU Charlotte experiential education coordinator, says, “This internship will help to propel them towards their career goals within the food science industry. With North Carolina being home to 24 of the 50 largest food and beverage companies in the U.S., food science is a growing and exciting field.”

‘This Is Important Work’

During the Applied Food Science bachelor’s degree program, Momplaisir says her courses in food microbiology, sensory analysis and research and development mimic what she is learning during her internship. “This is important work. [Expanding into] cancer research, I’d like to make products that nourish, not hurt. Not necessarily just plant-based. I mean, know each piece of equipment and how and why you use it to create something.”

Some of those pieces of equipment and technology are ultramodern. Both interns are working on machines with names such as retort, subcritical extractor, fluid bed dryer, Bühler twin-screw extruder, and scraped surface heat exchanger.

“Emilize is developing expertise to move food formulations from a recipe to a formula that can be run in a food manufacturing environment. She gets to exercise her culinary creativity.”

Momplaisir says she is working with equipment and ingredients that she hasn’t been able to put her hands on until now. Notes Calhoun, “[Momplaisir] is developing expertise to move food formulations from a recipe to a formula that can be run in a food manufacturing environment. She gets to exercise her culinary creativity, but then combines food ingredient knowledge along with manufacturing to a higher level. We’ve had her working on several projects for both food entrepreneurs and multinational food companies. And she hopes her work will one day be available to the general public.”

Calhoun continues: “We are identifying flavors or making something crispier or measuring shelf life or extracting a flavor or isolate. The sky’s the limit. The NC Food Innovation Lab is part of a larger initiative to bring 38,000 new jobs to the state and increase agricultural revenues an additional $10.8 billion. North Carolina is striving to become the dominant state in food and nutrition technology.”

And JWU is right there with them at the intersection where creativity and innovation come together.

BELOW: CHRIS PATILLO AND EMILIZE MOMPLAISIR '21 WORKING AT THE NC FOOD INNOVATION LAB.

Chris Patillo ’21 at his North Carolina Food Innovation Lab internship.

Emilize Momplaisir '21 at North Carolina Food Innovation Lab.