Pipers Crisps, University of Nottingham partner on knowledge transfer

25 Aug 2017

When Pipers Crisps wanted to understand more about the science behind their premium products and processes the company turned to food experts at the University of Nottingham.

Pipers Crisps, University of Nottingham partner on knowledge transfer

When Pipers Crisps wanted to understand more about the science behind their premium products and processes the company turned to food experts at the University of Nottingham.

This Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), supported by Innovate UK, was established in 2015. Over the last two years it has not only helped to enhance the quality of Pipers’ crisps but staff from across the company have been taught new skills and are now directly involved in the process of product development.

The partnership between industry and academia gave Pipers direct access to the Food Flavour and Sensory Science Laboratories in the School of Biosciences and the specialist knowledge of PhD student, now Dr, Deepa Agarwal — an expert in food structure, flavour and product development.

Agarwal has divided her time between the Pipers factory at Brigg in Lincolnshire and the University’s Sutton Bonington Campus in Leicestershire. Dr Ian Fisk, an expert in food chemistry, was the academic advisor on Agarwal’s KTP. He said: “The KTP has enabled my research group to work directly with a rapidly developing SME, understand the practical and commercial issues in snack food production whilst delivering high quality science. The process and project has been very positive and has had a real impact both in the University and the company.”

Inside the science labs, Agarwal used gas chromatography mass spectroscopy to understand the flavour profile and stability of Pipers crisps. With the help of advanced statistical analysis tools she was able to optimise cooking temperatures and times to minimise waste, enhance shelf life without compromising taste perception.

The samples were stored at 45°C in relative humidity controlled incubators for up to eight weeks to simulate shelf life. Agarwal then crushed and crunched her way through the samples to analyse and identify every aspect of degradation — of the potato, the oil the crisps were cooked in and the flavours. Her research involved the analysis of nearly 80 different aroma compounds.

Having prepared samples, she worked on the frying settings which can affect aroma profile and texture properties of base potatoes and crisps.

Back at the factory Agarwal spent 12 months drawing up a detailed training and selection programme to establish a team of specialist ‘tasters’. Drawing on her training in sensory science she looked for staff with untapped expertise in all five senses — hearing to define texture, taste, smell, touch and sight.

This team — drawn from across the company from the board room to the factory floor — will continue to use their new-found tools to support product development and support day to day quality control.

When the company started looking for a new flavour they turned to Agarwal to carry out market research and test and develop the flavour formulation provided by existing suppliers.

Agarwal said: “Our market research showed that more and more people are beginning to prefer vegetarian food as a day time snack. I am vegetarian so that was good. But the brief was for something not too spicy. I am Indian, I love spices! But we needed to find something not too spicy, so that challenged my preference for spicy food.”

Working with the flavour house the result was the successful introduction of a new vegetarian flavoured crisp — wild thyme and rosemary.

She said: “I tested it out with the sensory trained panel. They assessed the flavour formulation. We also tested the shelf life of the product — sensory analysis from age zero to fully aged samples. Sensory testing with the trained panel helped us to explain the changes in taste using the technical analysis from the lab. For instance, for the recently launched slightly salted sweet potato crisps, the results influenced the cooking process to achieve a great tasting new product and firmly established the importance of the role of the new tasting team.”

The results generated by Agarwal during this project offered a fundamental understanding on flavour instability over shelf life. She was able to suggest changes to the production process to increase in shelf life from 28 weeks to 40 weeks. As a result this opened doors to new export markets such as South East Asia and the US.

She has been closely involved in the launch of two new products, the Wild Thyme and Rosemary crisps and a new range of slightly salted sweet potato crisps.

James McKinney, Managing Director, said: “Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) play a key role in putting science behind the things we do. It gives us a sound evidence base for our decision making. We aren’t a health food — we are a premium product - but it is important we look at the ways to reduce and manage fat levels and salt content in our products.”