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Valomilk is a chocolate cup candy with marshmallow filling. Fenton’s version of the candy is black cherry flavored. (Photo by Reagan Skow)

Candy Queen

Friday, May 27, 2022

Media Contact: Jami Mattox | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-8061 | jami.mattox@okstate.edu

Did a children’s book inspire the career path you chose to take? An OSU Ferguson College of Agriculture freshman has a unique approach to how she wants to influence the food industry.

Lauren Fenton, food science freshman, became inspired to pursue the candy industry the same week she decided to study food science, she said. She read her favorite childhood book, “The Candymakers,” to her nephews and realized what she wanted to do — make candy.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue a career in science,” Fenton said. “I also really love food.

“I didn’t realize food science was a route I could take. But, when I learned more about it, I decided that is exactly what I want to do.”

An Olathe, Kansas, native, Fenton is the youngest of five siblings, all of whom attended Oklahoma State University. Her parents also attended the university.

Fenton accomplished more research in her first college semester than most students will throughout their academic career, said Karen Hickman, director of environmental science and director of undergraduate research for the college.

Fenton said her first experience with the candy industry occurred because of a chance encounter with Dave Swiercinsky, vice president and production manager at Sifers Valomilk Candy Co., located in Merriam, Kansas.

Fenton’s father expressed her interest in the candy industry to Swiercinsky and suggested she shadow him, she added.

“When Lauren came to shadow us, she worked right there with me,” Swiercinsky said. “Not only did she help with making the candy, cooking and filling, but also she actually came back to do it again.”

During Fenton’s first semester, she learned the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center was set to host the David Howard Food Product Innovation Competition, where students were to create a new food or drink product.

Her idea was creating a new flavor of Valomilk, a chocolate and marshmallow candy, she said.

“I went to ask Dave whether or not he would let me experiment with the new flavor of candy,” Fenton said. “Before I could even deliver the speech I had planned out, he agreed.”

Fenton decided to create a black cherry Valomilk because she felt the flavor is underrepresented in the market and is her father’s favorite, she said.

When Fenton returned home for winter break in December 2021, she set out to create her candy for the upcoming competition.

Using four different brands of black cherry concentrated syrups, she experimented to see which flavor worked the best with the Valomilk, she said.

“I ended up using three of the different black cherry syrups to create my flavor,” Fenton said. “I wanted the flavor to have a full mouth experience, and combining the flavors ensured that the candy hit every part of the tongue.”

One obstacle Fenton overcame was perfecting the flavoring of the marshmallow because the chocolate overpowered the cherry flavoring, she said. Fenton experimented and recalibrated the flavors to ensure they were balanced, she added.

Fenton returned to the Sifers Valomilk Candy Co. production floor to create her new candy in December 2021, Swiercinsky said.

“I went and worked at the factory for a week to do all of the testing and upscaling of the rations,” Fenton said. “On the second day of production, my parents came and helped hand pipe all of the black cherry filling into the chocolate cups.”

Despite Fenton’s candy not being selected for the Food Product Innovation Competition, she remains passionate about food science.

Outside of candymaking, Fenton has stayed busy on campus as a Freshman Research Scholar.

She is working with Patricia Rayas-Duarte, cereal chemistry professor in FAPC, on a project involving microbiota, which in this project is yeast and lactic acid bacteria in bread.

“Essentially, what we’re doing is using sourdough bread as a base to test direct flavor comparisons,” Fenton said. “I am working toward being a trained food panelist to work on this project.”

In addition to this research, Fenton has completed three other research internships, all of which were outside of the food industry. One of the research internships has resulted in her being a co-author of a scientific paper being peer reviewed for publication.

“While I was in high school, I was in a biotechnology program that facilitated my work,” Fenton said. “The primary focus was to better understand mutations in proteins when they might cause diseases to aid personal genome interpretation.”

The research paper was written through a program at the University of Kansas medical center.

As for the future, Fenton would like to create a variety box of different Valomilk flavors but first wants more consumer feedback on her current flavor, Fenton said.

Additionally, she would like to learn about other types of candies and how they are created by various companies, she said.

An accomplished researcher with an eagerness to learn, Fenton has done more than just create an impressive résumé for herself. She also has impressed OSU faculty, Hickman said. The candy Fenton created is delicious, she added.

“I have never seen a student who is so passionate about making something,” Hickman said. “She has developed a passion for creating new things, and that is exactly what the Freshman Research Scholars Program is designed for and is illustrated by Lauren’s actions.”


Story By: Reagan Skow | Cowboy Journal

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