Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources
Scott helps food business dreams come true
Darren Scott, food scientist at the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University, help entrepreneurs get into the food business.
Scott is a food scientist with the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He works directly with clients who are looking at going into the food business and provides them with technical assistance.
“There are a lot of people out there with ‘the world’s greatest salsa recipe’ or ‘the best chocolate cake’ who have a lot of eager energy and are looking for information that can help them launch a food business. That’s where I come in,” Scott said. “I try to help them harvest that energy. I talk to them about all the things they need to consider, such as shelf life, cost effectiveness of the product and other logistics. It’s not enough to be eager and have a product. You have to have something people want, are willing to pay for and be able to make a profit.”
When it comes to mass producing a treasured family recipe, there is more to it than simply multiplying the ingredients to produce mass quantities. Scott says one way he tries to explain this to clients is using the paint example. When shopping for paint, people find the perfect color on those little sample cards at the store. However, when that same color gets applied to a whole room, it can take on an entirely different look. The same is true for what is called upscaling a recipe.
“You can’t simply take a recipe, multiply it by 100 and have it turn out the same way the original recipe does. It may turn out too salty or the consistency isn’t the same. Although we do have a basic math formula we use during this process, each recipe is different,” he said. “It would be much easier if there was a one-size-fits-all algorithm we could fall back on but it takes trial and error. Part of my job is to help these potential food business owners with product development and get them into pilot plants to see if the product can be mass produced.”
Shelf life is another major factor in the food business. While that favorite chocolate cake still may taste great at home after three days, the recipe will have to be tweaked to make the product shippable and give it a stable shelf life.
Not only does Scott advise clients about the recipes themselves, he also shares his expertise in packaging, labeling and distribution. He has a variety of products on the shelves in his office he has collected over the years, including the gummy brain, to help potential business owners get a better understanding of the importance of packaging.
“I have these things to help my clients understand concepts such as shelf life and stability,” he said. “Besides, the brain is fun.”
He also develops the Nutrition Facts labels, which is required on all food products.
Scott, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas, and his doctorate from OSU, all in food science, said he has always liked science, history and math. As an undergraduate agriculture student at UA, when it was time to declare a major, Scott knew one thing for certain.
“My dad is an ag professor at the University of Arkansas and I knew I didn’t really want to have to take any of his classes,” he said. “I learned if I majored in food science, I could bypass my dad’s classes.”
Scott has been at FAPC at OSU since 2000. Not only does he give a helping hand to potential food business owners, he teaches Food Science 3603, Processing Dairy Foods. He also takes an active role in teaching educational workshops related to the food business industry.
“I really do enjoy my job, in part because it’s different all the time,” he said. “And, I enjoy helping people achieve their dreams of being in the food business. If I had to offer advice to people wanting to get into the food business, it would be that you have to be flexible and you have to have a plan. Not only do you have to be able to actually manufacture the food, you also have to be able to convince people to buy it.”
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
159 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK 74078