While her friends spent their afternoons watching MTV, Ashley Pruett spent hers watching Food Network.
Pruett’s love of food started at a young age as she gardened with her dad, canned with her grandma and helped cook homemade family meals. When her hobby of working with food spiraled into a passion, Pruett knew she wanted to pursue a degree in that direction.
“K-State has such a rich history in food and nutrition curriculums,” said Pruett, who earned a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and a master’s degree in food science from Kansas State University. “I was given an incredibly well-rounded education in my graduate program. My major professor, Dr. Fadi Aramouni, gave me opportunities to apply food science skills in order to develop skill sets.”
A self-described “serious foodie,” Pruett now works in research and development as a food scientist at Grandma Hoerner’s Foods. Her major responsibilities include product development, market trend research, maintaining product quality, ensuring food safety and compliance, packaging design and compliance and technical trouble shooting.
Product development involves formulating recipes and then scaling the formulas up to a manufacturing setting. What sounds like a matter of simply multiplying amounts is actually much more complex. “Batch sizes can be tens of thousands of pounds and industrial grade equipment operates completely different than your stove at home. Ingredients also react differently at such a large scale,” said Pruett.
Since joining Grandma Hoerner’s, Pruett has been part of a dedicated team involved in the development and launch of Big Slice Apples. Pruett’s role was to expand the original Big Slice recipe that Grandma Hoerner’s was founded on into three lines of trendy, new flavor profiles in a modern day package.
Marketed as an on-the-go healthy fruit snack, Big Slice Apples are kettle cooked apples, fruit chunks and sauce inside a single serving pouch. Big Slice Apples are available in three flavor lines—pure, fit and luxe—with a total of 16 flavors. The product launched nationwide in Target stores, but is now available in many other stores and chains.
“I’m not sure I can even explain the emotion from seeing your finished product for sale in a legitimate store,” said Pruett. “The first time I saw the Big Slice line up at Target I think I just stood there and stared for like 10 minutes! Target is my happy place anyways, so it was surreal to see this project launch there.”
Pruett has been involved in virtually every step of the Big Slice launch. In addition to developing a majority of the flavors, she assisted the sales and marketing team with branding, packaging design and promotional events.
According to Pruett, the greatest challenge in creating Big Slice was the cooking process. “Unlike typical large scale food production, Big Slice is an art verses a science,” said Pruett. Cooking the product relied on visual clues more than a set step-by-step process. In addition, when working with fresh produce, the opportunity for variation in a product increases, resulting in additional challenges.
Although Big Slice has launched, Pruett’s work is not done. She is working on improvements and innovations to the product line, such as an addition to the fit flavor line.