Since childhood, Tessa Porter has had a penchant for breaking things down and rebuilding them to understand how things come apart and how to manipulate the parts in different ways when putting them back together.
After high school graduation, the visionary Porter fed her inquisitive mind, as well as her sweet tooth, by earning a candy science scholarship to study food science and technology, later refining her focus through a master’s program in sugar crystallization. To boost her business acumen, she also completed an MBA along the way.
Well into her college career, an internship at Hershey changed the way Porter considered ingredient formulation. A mentor at the famous Pennsylvania candy factory modified variables such as temperature and time to force the budding scientist to think outside the box and problem solve on the fly. “I still refer back to that experience and pass along to developers I’m training how to troubleshoot,” she shared.
Porter channeled this perspective in her work at the nostalgic Ferrara Candy Company in Chicago (creators of childhood favorites Lemonheads and Boston Baked Beans), quickly rising up the ranks to Head of Innovation and Technology.
When it comes to innovation, Porter believes there is room for original, inventive ideas in the confectionary industry. Most candy starts with the same base ingredients, but manipulating the cooking and mixing methods can result in a surprising variety of different textures. “I get really nerdy about creating different textures by controlling temperature and the physics of shear and how materials move.”
In 2019, Porter left Ferrara to move closer to her hometown of Albion, Nebraska and pursue a novel idea that would overcome common hurdles in the industry. She explained, “In my work, I saw really cool innovations that never saw the light of day due to lack of manufacturing space. It’s difficult to innovate within the tight parameters of products being made.”
To that end, the energetic confectioner started Sprinkk, a candy development and manufacturing company based in Omaha. Porter and her team excel in the business of transforming creative and unique ideas into final products.
Lower minimum order quantities, flexible process design, and small size allow Porter to work with clients to take an idea from formulation through testing and ultimately final production. The company’s involvement ends with production, leaving pricing, branding, and packaging design to other experts. “I take really great joy in that moment when an idea becomes a physical product. Getting to do that for and with others while bringing my own personality to it has been satisfying.”
Founder and owner of Sprinkk, Porter is also a client. While spending time in Albion during the pandemic, she collaborated with her grandmother Norma Porter on Norma’s Handcrafted Fruity Snacks. “I find peace in creating, and Norma’s was exactly that—creating for the sake of creating.”
The gummy snacks are hyperlocal, using homegrown rhubarb, nearby elderberries, and beekeeper and honey producer Fat Head Honey in Clarkson, Nebraska to craft chewy candies based on nostalgic flavor combinations.
Porter is grateful for past mentors, including a confectionary industry professional that encouraged her to break free of historic norms and infuse her unique dynamic in her daily work. “She really paved the way for doing things differently and settling into your own energy—she taught me when things feel right and good for you, do it that way.”
Porter’s advice to budding candy scientists? “The main thing is to explore and be curious, dissect things, make messes. Early in your career is time to make as many messes as you can.” Meanwhile, the entrepreneur is content to stay busy helping others’ dreams come true, including grandma’s.
In addition to the Omaha development lab, Sprinkk is building a small, flexible contract manufacturing facility in Albion where Norma’s fruit snacks will be produced. This increased capacity will help boost production of the treats, but until then consumers can find Norma’s Handcrafted Fruity Snacks on its website as well as at local Albion grocery store ThriftyWay, Omaha collective Her Company, and Ellsworth Crossing Farm to Fork Market.
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