Almond Board of California Announces 2024 Tastemaker Trials Student Competition Winners

California State University, Fresno students impress judges with Billion Dollar Energy, multi-layered and vegan almond brownie energy cups.

MODESTO, Calif. — The Almond Board of California (ABC) announced the winners of its Tastemaker Trials student competition, which invited university students to create delicious almond-based snacks that tap into the consumer trend of “intentional indulgence” and appeal to younger generations’ snacking needs.

Ciara Danay Hernandez and Brianna Price, food science majors from California State University, Fresno, were named this year’s winners by a panel of judges with expertise in food, culinary science and product marketing. Their product concept, “Billion Dollar Energy – Almond Brownie Energy Cups,” combines almonds with pea protein crisps, cacao nibs, dates and other plant-based ingredients to create a better-for-you, yet indulgent baked snack. The team demonstrated a well-rounded understanding of product development, branding and marketing. The judges included Rachel Zemser (A La Carte Connections), Michael Freudenthal (A La Carte Connections), Vicky Li (A La Carte Connections), Henry Hill (Hill’s Research Kitchen), Guangwei Huang (Almond Board of California), and Charice Grace (Almond Board of California).

The Tastemaker Trials tasked students with developing a new almond-based snack while considering AI-informed consumer trends from Tastewise as well as technical elements, nutrition, processing and marketing. Tastewise is an AI-driven data platform that analyzes food and beverage data from social media, recipes and more to provide real-time insights. Each team submitted written proposals, video pitches, recipes and product samples for judges to evaluate. Students participated in a final Q&A with the judging panel, and the public was invited to vote on their favorite concept, which provided bonus points.

“This year’s Tastemaker Trials submissions harnessed the spectrum of almond benefits including versatility, nutrition and consumer appeal to create delicious and exciting products,” said Charice Grace, manager of trade marketing & stewardship at the Almond Board of California. “The students demonstrated that almonds fulfill needs for intentional indulgence by not only supporting great-tasting products, but also promoting health and sustainability.”

The judges also recognized four finalist teams from Fresno State:

  • Almond Mousse Dippers, a portable, dippable snack pack that combines crisp, thinly rolled almond flour crackers with a fluffy and decadent almond mousse.
  • Break-IT-Brittle, a fun, shareable almond brittle that is vegan friendly with a jalapeno flavor that offers a balance of sweet and spicy.
  • Breakfast In-a-Nutshell, an instant porridge that roasts and blends almonds to create an enjoyable texture and light crunch.
  • Waffley Nutty, an almond-based, gluten-free waffle that’s inspired by the Liège waffle and can be frozen and popped into the toaster.

“It’s very important for students to learn through real-world examples and hands-on activities,” said Dr. Jamie Levitt, the teams’ advisor and assistant professor in Fresno State’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition. “The Tastemaker Trials were a unique opportunity for students to showcase their creativity and problem-solving skills, while gaining experience that will prepare them for future careers.”

The Billion Dollar Energy team will receive a trip to IFT FIRST from July 14-17, 2024, and ongoing mentorship opportunities from the judges. Food industry members attending the show can visit the Almond Board of California’s kiosk in the Startup Pavilion to meet this year’s Tastemaker Trials winners and sample their concept.

For ongoing updates on the competition and product innovation with almonds, follow ABC’s Nuts about Almond Inspiration LinkedIn page.

About the Almond Board of California

California almonds make life better by what we grow and how we grow. The Almond Board of California promotes natural, wholesome and quality almonds through leadership in strategic market development, innovative research, and accelerated adoption of industry best practices on behalf of the more than 7,600 almond farmers and processors in California, most of whom are multi-generational family operations. Established in 1950 and based in Modesto, California, the Almond Board of California is a non-profit organization that administers a grower-enacted Federal Marketing Order under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture. For more information on the Almond Board of California or almonds, visit or check out California Almonds on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram and the Almond Living Magazine.