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Ellen Morgan, research and development director for wet dairy and culinary systems, in the culinary kitchen at Kerry in Beloit, Wis. Photo: Michael P. King

As a UW–Madison undergrad, Ellen (Shumaker) Morgan was eagerly hopping through an array of science electives, undecided on a specific major. Her curiosity was piqued when she learned that a food science degree could be her ticket into the brewing industry. After an introductory course in the field, she was hooked.

Morgan declared her food science major and soon began homebrewing, well before today’s craft beer boom and the nowformalized fermentation sciences program at UW. Her new hobby was the beginning of her track record of staying ahead of food and beverage trends.

Morgan later joined the student Dairy Product Judging Team and worked at the Center for Dairy Research. If homebrewing was her spark, cheese was fuel on the fire. She earned her master’s degree with a thesis on pinking discoloration, a common defect in orange-colored varieties of processed cheese, with emeritus professor of food science Bill Wendorff BS’64 MS’66 PhD’69 as her advisor.

It all prepared the Watertown, Wisconsin, native for a career with Kerry, a major food ingredient company based in Ireland. The company’s global success has benefited CALS through investment in the Food Research Institute and new Babcock Hall and Meat Science Lab construction projects, and other partnerships are in the works. Since 1998, Morgan has worked at Kerry’s North American headquarters in Beloit, Wisconsin, where she is now research and development director for wet dairy and culinary systems.

What Is a Wet Dairy or Culinary System, and What Problems Are You Solving in this Area at Kerry?

It could be cheese, cheese sauce, or a dairy snack like a yogurt bite or an ice cream bite. Maybe you’re trying for bake stability, or emulsion stability — things that natural cheese can’t do. You want to control the melting properties of cheese, or you don’t want it to blow out of a pastry. Or you need a sauce that has a certain viscosity and has certain cling properties. We would develop a system that could meet your needs.

Kerry has over 15,000 products that we supply to customers in over 140 countries — dairy ingredients and sauces, batters and breading used on coated meat, cereal inclusions, sweet variegates and inclusions that you see in ice cream. Those all have Kerry technology or ingredients in them.

What Is Changing about your Field, and What Are You Working on Now?

What I think is really cool is that Kerry has evolved our focus to stay ahead of consumer demand. Back 20 years ago it was about convenience foods. Now, people want products that taste good but they can feel better about. They want real food. They want to know where their food comes from. And they’re looking at labels.

There’s a lot of on-the-go snacking. We need to tie into that convenience trend, but tie into the “clean label” trend for general health and wellness. We’re developing products that might be a healthier snacking option that keeps people satiated longer — higher protein, lower sugar — all while still meeting the experience the consumers are looking for, and tasting great.