The 27th Annual IFTSA & MARS Product Development Competition

The deadline for the 2017 competition is February 1.

The 27th Annual IFT Student Association & MARS Product Development Competition is a chance for students to take all of the skills and knowledge learned in school and apply them to a real-world situation. Each participating school's team develops a new food idea and carries the concept through marketing and production, much like a commercial product development team. This is a great opportunity for any student to get involved in food science and IFTSA. It challenges organizational, teamwork, creative, and scientific skills. The PDC also gives you the opportunity to show people in industry how good you really are. Many industry professionals take an interest in the competition to see who the product development scientists of tomorrow will be. A highlight of this competition was in 1996, when Dateline NBC featured Cornell University in a story about the competition. Contact the PDC chair for more information. IFTSA wishes to thank Mars Chocolate North America, Inc. for their sponsorship.

Competition Guidelines

2017 Winners:

1st place: Cornell University

2nd place: Michigan State University

3rd place: University of Wisconsin – Madison

Honorable Mentions: Penn State University; Virginia Tech; Rutgers University


  • $1,000 travel grant for finalist teams
  • 1st place: $4,000
  • 2nd place: $2,500
  • 3rd place: $1,000


Comments and Tips from past Product Development Judges
  • Use sequential process to do product development: 1st develop product, 2nd develop process and 3rd determine profitability. *Make sure you think through the total process, e.g. find out how much you can realistically charge for the product, then back calculate what it means to product cost, manufacturing cost, and use these to optimize product formulation and process.
  • Most teams did not leverage consumers when they designed the product, they only used consumers to optimize the formulation - use consumers for ideas!
  • Strong bench top formulations but not as strong in manufacturing process and business aspects. Make an attempt to reach out to alumni, industry members, etc.
  • Most teams do not spend enough time to determine why things do not work. They tend to find quick fixes or use expensive solutions.

The IFT Product Development Competition: One Judge's Perspective

Suzanne E. Case, Ph.D.
1999 IFT Product Development Competition Judge
Kraft Foods

The Product Development Competition is one of the highlights for the Student Association at the National IFT meeting. All of the final competitors put their heart and soul into the products they develop and into the preparation of the IFT presentation. Following are some thoughts regarding the competition in order to aid this development process. One thing to keep in mind is that as the judges change from year to year the areas that are emphasized will vary to some extent as well. This variation will occur due to differences in perspectives of the respective judges.

Remember that originality is important. In general, innovative products that are new to the market or products that overcome a processing or product barrier that has restricted their entry into the market is always more interesting than a remake of a standard. So developing an upscale or new-flavored item that is just another soup, cookie or candy bar is not going to be rated highly in the originality section. Your team will have more success with a product that has carved out a niche in a new and developing market than for a line extension or a remake of a classic.

Keep in mind also that producing the product is critical. If there is simply no way to produce a product within reasonable financial limitations it might not be the best entry. There are some great ideas out there, but a product which has small pieces that need to be oriented during manufacturing or a product with a great amount of waste from the raw starting material will not be scored highly in the feasibility area. A cop out of "our company will use a co-manufacturer to produce this product" followed by no details regarding process description will not fly. Don't ignore processing feasibility as a road block for even the best tasting, best marketed product in the competition. Using a co-manufacturer is acceptable if it will help your cost/price strategy but be sure to cover the processing description in enough detail to prove that the product can be made.

The market almost always drives development in the "real world". If the market doesn't want it a company will not make it. A product that is technically complex or innovative that has limited consumer appeal or little likelihood for success will not be considered for launch in industry. On the other hand overcoming technical hurdles with innovative solutions in order to launch a product that has tested positively with consumers is always a good thing for companies. This allows for exclusivity in the marketplace via patenting or by keeping the information proprietary. Think about these two paths. Which one might you want to pursue? Why? The judging of products is based heavily on "real world" feasibility with respect to decision making and the marketplace.

One way to approach coming up with a product for this competition might be to start with a survey of the new and developing markets. Then proceed identifying how your company might create a niche for itself in that area. Is there a new technology that will make this product even more unique in the marketplace? Or a new technology that will reduce the cost of manufacturing?

Remember that product description and process description accounts for 40% of the preliminary proposal grading. Being thorough in these two areas certainly increases yourchances for advancing into the finals. Finally, if the judges stump your team regarding anarea that was not addressed in the final written proposal don't just let it slide.You're at the IFT! There are equipment and ingredient manufacturers at every turn, goto the booths and search out the answer. You will have an opportunity to impress the judges with your tenacity during the next portion of the competition.

So relax, have fun and good luck!


February 1
Preliminary proposals due

May 15
Final proposals due

Julne 25 - 28, 2017
Final Judging and Competition
IFT17, Las Vegas, Nevada

Schedule of Events (TBA)

Andrew Elder
Pennsylvania State University

Competition Rules (PDF)
IFTSA Competition Penalty Policy



MARS chocolate, north america