One lucky University College Birmingham student had the chance to go to Mars – the food manufacturer, that is! – after winning a recipe competition with a creative selection of vegan snack balls.
Second year BSc Bakery and Patisserie Technology student Lara Scott was chosen by Mars Foods Europe for a behind-the-scenes visit to their Netherlands production site near Rotterdam.
Lara scooped the opportunity following a university project run by Mars called HEAT Club, where students were challenged to develop recipes using some of the brand's core product ranges, such as Uncle Ben's rice and Dolmio sauces.
"I was very grateful to be chosen by Mars as the winner," said Lara. "I didn't actually know it was a competition, so it was a very pleasant surprise!"
Students were briefed to create recipes for the everyday consumer, which needed to be healthy, easy to create, affordable and tasty. The recipes would then be made available to view for free on the Mars website.
Lara, who challenged herself to go vegan in developing her recipes, created a range of vegan snack balls featuring flavour combinations such as apricot and coconut, peanut butter and chocolate, pistachio and cranberry, coffee and walnut, and carrot cake.
"I wanted to create a vegan dish so it could be enjoyed by everyone," she explained. "I noticed how difficult it was to buy cost effective, on-the-go vegan snacks, so I decided to create my own using various staple household ingredients."
And her dishes impressed Mars so much that they invited her and lecturer Tamorah Lassam-Jones to fly to the Netherlands for a three-day visit of their factory, where she was given an in-depth tour and had the chance to observe and learn about the full production process, from development and tasting to packaging the final product.
She also had the opportunity to meet and ask questions with the company's development chefs and food scientists, as well as meeting product developer Alison Smith - an MA Culinary Arts Management graduate from UCB.
"The experience from the trip is invaluable," said Lara. "It was such a fantastic opportunity to be able to see first-hand all of the different departments, methods and intricacies that go into making a product.
"Everyone was so incredibly welcoming and generous with their time. I couldn't believe how many people took time out of their busy day to speak with us and share their knowledge.
"The biggest thing was witnessing the time and attention to detail that continuously goes into improving every single element of the production process - nothing is overlooked or under-considered.
"It's taught me the importance of taking a step back with anything you do and analysing it to see what improvements could be made. Continuous self-development and improvement is key to a successful career and it's something I hope I will never forget."
Find out more about our range of courses within the College of Food here.