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The next best thing since jelly

Peanut butter slices its way to store shelves
Face it. You're a poor college student so you must go home to eat. It takes five minutes to get home and five to get back. Oh, and don't forget the 15 minutes to find a parking space and another five to walk from overflow after not finding a spot in your designated area. You now have 30 minutes to make and eat lunch, return, and get to your next class. 

You open the fridge to make yet another ham and cheese sandwich, and realize the color of the cheese isn't quite the same as when you bought it. 

Out of luck? 


Why not make a peanut butter slice and jelly sandwich? 

Peanut butter slice? 

Yes, peanut butter slices are one of the hottest new food products soon to appear on grocery shelves, and the best part is ó they were created right here at Oklahoma State University! 

The new product, PB Slices, is a result of one evening's "goofing around." The creative idea behind these individually wrapped sensations originated from Stewart Kennedy, former business and marketing specialist for the Oklahoma Food and Agricultural Products Research and Technology Center, known as FAPC who received both his bachelor's and master's degrees from OSUís College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. 

Danielle Bellmer and Lynn Lye test one of the 
slice formulations on a texture analyzer. This
machine is used to determine the physical
properties of the slices. 
"Some friends and I were sitting around one night, and the idea came up," Kennedy said. 

After coming up with the idea, he took it to Danielle Bellmer, food engineer at FAPC. 

"I had never thought of making peanut butter slices before," Bellmer said. "Stewart told me about the idea rather jokingly. I told him I really thought we could try this. Now that off the wall thought has turned into something we are actually trying." 

After creating the idea, money was needed to implement it. Bellmer wrote a grant to the Oklahoma Peanut Commission, and they gave FAPC $5,000 to help pay for testing expenses. 

"This was enough money to prove that it could be done," Kennedy said. 

OSUís Food and Agricultural Products Research Initiative Program gave $24,000 to continue the development of the product, and the OPC donated another $4,500 last May.

A year ago, Kennedy received a registered trademark on PB Slices. Now he and Bellmer are waiting on a patent for the product.

"It is envisioned that eventually either the patent rights or the intellectual property will be sold to a company for commercial production," Bellmer said. 

Other patents have been issued for peanut butter slices, but none of them have been genuine peanut butter.

"Peanut butter slices were actually attempted in the 1940s," Bellmer said. "Flour was added and the formula consisted of about half flour and half peanut butter to make it stiff enough to slice. The mixture was then placed on a block to cut."

Although peanut butter slices were attempted more than 50 years ago, flavor wasn't a major factor. Today, ingredients must be made up of a majority of peanut butter to enhance the taste. 

"For the slices to be true peanut butter, they must be made of 90 percent peanuts," Kennedy said. "Our goal is to have the slices made of 95 percent peanuts." 

Many trial runs were made by incorporating different additives to the peanut butter to create different consistencies. Experiments are also being done to find the formulation with the best stability in different plastic wraps.

Lynn Lye, biosystems and agricultural engineering senior,
wraps a peanut butter slice after pouring the formula in a mold. 
The slices are then tested for stability, texture and palatability.

"We have bought approximately 400 to 500 pounds of peanut butter over the past year and a half for experimenting," Bellmer said. "The biggest challenge has been getting the slices stable, yet have them still soft and flavorsome when you chew them." 

Taste tests were conducted last spring to determine the best recipe for the job. One hundred OSU staff members and students were randomly selected to serve as peanut butter connoisseurs. 

"We narrowed it down to five different slice formulations by having anyone who wanted to taste the slices try them," Bellmer said. "Those five were then made into bite sized sandwiches for the formal taste test."

The tasters then chose their favorite formulation of peanut butter, three of which are now being used in experiments.

As part of the experiments, FAPC is cooperating with the American Dairy Brands in Plymouth, Wis., to conduct test runs. The product is using the same equipment from which processed cheese slices are produced. 

"The end product will be similar to cheese slices, except that it will be peanut butter," Bellmer said. "We have to test for texture and consistency to be sure the peanut butter doesn't stick to the wrapper. We also have to test the slices to see that they keep their shape and form for shelf stability." 

Don Cannon, senior vice president of food merchandising for Wal-Mart, has looked at the product and believes Wal-Mart would be interested in test marketing it.

But working to get the new product on the shelf hasn't been as easy as coming up with the original idea. 

"The hardest part has been getting the product implemented," Kennedy said. "It had to be a product that was not only new, but of good quality." 

However, determination prevailed, and Kennedy expects the slices will be on the shelves next fall. 

"The price for this new product is yet to be determined, but the goal is to keep it close to the average peanut butter cost," Bellmer said.

The slices will be shelf stable and easy to pack for a quick lunch. Creamy peanut butter will be used for the early versions of the slices. Once that is perfected, chunky peanut butter lovers will be pleased to know that chunky slices will be next.

"Many people ask if jelly slices are next," Bellmer said with a laugh. 

Not only will the consumers benefit from this new product, but OSU will as well. Any royalties from the PB Slices will come back to the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and be disbursed into the research programs of the various departments involved.

"It's been a lot of fun working on this project," Bellmer said. "It's nice to think they may be on shelves; they are something real."

So next time you're sitting in your 11:30 a.m. class with your stomach growling, don't fret! Forget the marathon run to home and back. Just reach in your backpack for a peanut butter slice and jelly sandwich!

By Julie Cox of Mooreland, Oklahoma

Fall 1999