There’s a well-known phrase about the “gift that keeps on giving.” But here’s an interesting twist with a win—that presents still more winning upcycled ingredient ideas for new product developers.

This summer Utah State University food science students answered the challenge of developing a dairy-based product for “gamers” during National Dairy Council’s (NDC) New Product Competition. Their winning product was Moba Boba, a carbonated, pineapple-flavored energy drink (92% dairy) made from acid whey, whey phospholipid protein concentrate and 2% milk. It also features high-protein, coconut-flavored boba gummies for a fun texture. Moba Boba provides gamers with energy from 130mg of caffeine as well as 31g of protein (including 19g from dairy sources) in a 16oz serving.

Students Nathan Pougher, Melissa Marsh, Chandler Stafford and Mackenzie Taylor defeated teams from Iowa State University and California State Polytechnic University-Pomona in the annual competition, which is open to all U.S. undergraduate and graduate students. NDC’s parent, Dairy Management Inc., has hosted the new product competition since the early 2000s. Since 2012, the competition has focused on a specific theme (such as this year’s products for gamers) based on consumer insights.

Marsh, who served as team captain, said acid whey has been a challenge for dairy companies to upcycle because its high mineral content makes it difficult to dispose of and its acidic flavor was not very palatable. Specifically, Moba Boba upcycles acid whey from the production of cottage cheese and yogurt. Ultimately, Utah State team members found a formula they felt would resonate with gamers because of its taste, nutrition, energy and sustainability components.

“Products made sustainably are emerging for sure,” said Marsh. “There are more products using upcycled ingredients and you’re even seeing labels that say a product is third-party certified as upcycled.

(Moba Boba) shines a positive light because the dairy industry gets a lot of media attention on not being sustainable. So being able to say we’re making dairy more sustainable and using this waste is beneficial and something we’re really proud of.”

Teammate Chandler Stafford added, “People can say our product puts their mind at ease because it’s good for the environment but it’s also healthy. It has a shorter ingredient list that they can understand, and the label is physically appealing.

Rohit Kapoor, PhD., is NDC’s vice president of product research and manages the competition.

“There’s not a specific breakthrough here related to processing technology or a certain treatment step that didn’t exist before. Rather, these students innovated with a very creative way to form the liquid portion of the beverage not only using 2% milk but also acid whey and another under-utilized co-product of whey protein isolate (WPI) manufacturing called whey protein phospholipid concentrate. In addition, Moba Boba also included WPI as an ingredient in the boba gummies that were suspended in the beverage.

“With their innovative concept, they were not only able to satisfy gamers’ specific needs—a mess-free energy product—but they also were able to develop a product with upcycled ingredients,” says Kapoor. “They successfully unlocked a new sustainability solution with a way to incorporate acid whey.”

Looking ahead, Kapoor points to the beverage category and, in particular, to start-ups such as Norwhey and Superfrau that also are using upcycled acid whey.

DMI’s New Product Competition pays out $16,000 in prize awards: $8,000 for first place; $5,000 for second place and $3,000 for third place. The theme for 2023 is innovative dairy-based products for calming.

Discover more contest information.