sensory tasting event group of four

AURI hosts sensory panel to assist clients with product development and marketing

Offering a unique way for food entrepreneurs to gain expert critique and connect with others, AURI collaborated with Midwest Pantry to hold a Sensory Tasting Event in late March. The event brought together a diverse group of people to evaluate various characteristics of food and beverage selections.

AURI’s Innovative Network Program has conducted both formal and informal versions of these events to assist entrepreneurs with consumer preferences related to their specific food or beverage product. This sensory panel was composed of 10 to 12 community members with varying backgrounds. The panelists received instructions on how to evaluate the various food and beverage selections using a defined scorecard with general ratings from 1-5 (like or dislike) on various attributes including appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture.
The event also provided a good opportunity for the entrepreneur to network and promote their product.

Serving as the perfect backdrop, the event occurred at Able Seedhouse and Brewery in NE Minneapolis, which is a brewery striving to connect the farm to the brewery. The brewery uses locally farmed grain that is grown specifically for flavor instead of yield, and does its own on-site malting.

Eleven entrepreneurs participated in the March event and are highlighted below.

Darling Pickle DipsOne of the businesses serving their product was Darling Foods, owned by Britt Jungerberg and Sara Doherty. Their product, Darling Pickle Dips, is a line of cream cheese and white bean-based dips that have a different pickled ingredient blended into each flavor. The product line includes four flavors: Original Dill, Original Dill with White Cheddar & Mustard, Spicy Pickle and Roasted Tomato & Jalapeno. Darling Pickle Dips are versatile and fun to use as a traditional dip, spread or base ingredient in other recipes. The pair said, “We appreciated the diverse backgrounds of the panel of judges. It was exciting for us to hear that our product had wide appeal among chefs, food manufacturers, nutritionists and, of course, snack lovers like us. Events like this are extremely important for food start-ups in the infancy stage, like we are because it gave us unbiased feedback from people outside of our family and friend networks.”

Chowza ConfectionsChowza Confections owner Chris Becker served samples of a delicious sweet treat crafted with gluten-free ingredients. Classic Chowza, our main flavor, is peanut butter and chocolate. A bonus of purchasing this product is that it doesn’t involve the typical mess that comes from the making similar snacks at home. Becker said, “I appreciate AURI allowing us to bring in our product for sensory testing. The feedback and conversations with the panel were valuable because we are using that input to improve our product line.”

Curly Girlz CandyPaula Trenda, Owner of Curly Girlz Candy, LLC, offered up for tasting a Sugar Free/No Sugar Added Almond Toffee. Her new line of sugar-free, no sugar added confections is made using a proprietary blend of the natural, high fiber, plant based sugar replacements. Like all of their candies, Paula starts with local Hope Creamery Butter, fresh whipping cream, and always makes them in small batches. Trenda said “The AURI Tasting Event was a great way to get industry experts and food lovers to try our new product, providing valuable feedback for some minor tweaks and changes before we launch our sugar-free toffee.“

King's Table Grape JellyMatt Howard of King’s Table Jelly, had samples of his reduced sugar jelly made from cold-hardy grapes grown in Chisago Lakes, MN. He advertises that it has 40 percent less sugar than traditional Welch’s jelly and is bursting with natural grape flavor. Howard said “The sensory event gave me a chance to have my product evaluated by professionals and to receive valuable feedback. I’m so glad I went because they helped steer me towards the right blend of grapes that will meet the consumer’s taste needs.”

Karmic Kitchens Lotus PopsKarmic Kitchens owner Sarah Pritzker had samples for a snack called Lotus Pops made from the popped seed from the Lotus flower. Similar in taste to popcorn but lower in calories, Lotus Pops are nutrient dense with high amino acid content and magnesium They use simple, easy to understand ingredients and currently make four flavors: Maple Caramel, Chocolate Sea Salt, Truffle Salt and Original (Himalayan Pink Salt and Olive Oil). Pritzker said, “the event was a great way to get in front of and receive advice from people who have so much experience in the food world.”

The Amazing Chickpea Butter SpreadSunil Kumar, owner of The Amazing Chickpea, offered for critique his Amazing Chickpea Butter Spread. Kumar said “It is not only delicious and nutritious, but it is also made locally in Minnesota, is low-fat, high in iron, high in fiber and contains 0% peanuts. We currently have three different flavors creamy, crunchy, and Chocolate (Choc’ A Chic) Chocolatey Chickpea Spread, with all natural cocoa!”

Bizzy Coffee ShotsAndrew Healy, Cofounder of Get Bizzy Inc, had samples of what he calls “nature’s most trusted form of energy.” Using an ultra-convenient format and a strong cold-brewing process, Healy says “Bizzy Coffee Shots are there for you when your busy life gets in the way of brewing or waiting in line for coffee.” About the event, he said “This was a great event with a lot of great products. It was fun to hear the feedback of so many people in the food industry.”

Gustola Granola Gusto BarsAngela Gustafson, Owner of Gustola Granola, offered ‘Gusto’ Bars, which she described as “healthy, delicious energy anytime.” Organic oats, local peanut butter, local Bare Honey, and local K’ul Chocolate are among the all-pronounceable, all-recognizable ingredients. She said, “I love how AURI puts an element of fun into their very technical and professional contributions to our agriculture/food community! Having the opportunity to get immediate, thoughtful feedback from a local chef on the panel that I admire tremendously was a
rare opportunity.”

Pho BrothSpice Kitchen, LLC, owned by Kayla Yang-Best, had samples of her Pho product, which she describes as “a savory and hearty rice noodle soup that originated from Southeast Asia, and made popular in the U.S. through the growth of Vietnamese cuisine. Pho has four parts: rice noodles, steaming hot broth made from beef or chicken bones, toppings of fresh herbs and vegetables, and condiments that are sweet or spicy” Yang-Best also said “the event was a lot of fun! The panel asked great questions and provided valuable feedback for my product.”

Sharab ShrubsAlex Zweber, owner of Sharab Shrubs, makes cold-press drinking vinegars by utilizing traditional methods to create flavorful mixes for the bar and home. Some flavors include apple rosemary, Asian pear, and strawberry. He offered up a tasty sample mixed with seltzer water for the judges to evaluate.

Northern FrostOn the sweet side, Michele Zoromski, “Chief Memory Maker”, Northern Frost, describes her product as follows: “Perfect for your celebration or event. Creamy and delicious, we pair light, not too sweet frosting, in a variety of flavor combinations for a tasty, fun treat that everyone will love.” Zoromski also said, “AURI is great to work with. Knowledgeable and friendly, it’s wonderful to be able to leverage their expertise to make my products better. The sensory event was a fun opportunity to introduce my products to the food community and get immediate feedback.”

AURI Food Scientist Lolly Occhino, said “The AURI sensory event was a great opportunity for the food entrepreneurs to get some valuable feedback and comments on their products in addition to offering great chance to network with others in the food community.”


Sensory Tasting Events are an offering of AURI’s Innovation Network Program (INP). The purpose of the INP is to actively engage thought leaders, business and industry, commodity groups, stakeholders and academia to accomplish AURI’s value-added mission. The outcome sought is improved competitiveness of businesses and entrepreneurs through ongoing, purposeful connection of resources and partners along the value chain and increased knowledge of opportunities, technologies and trends. For more information, please contact Nan Larson at 507-537-6020.

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