Wildcats Apply Food Science at Del’s Lemonade

Fun fact: there’s a right way to drink a frozen cup of Del’s lemonade, and it doesn’t involve a straw.

Caleb Atkinson ’24, a Culinary Science & Product Development major at Johnson & Wales University, discovered that in early January when he began interning in the corporate office of the famous Rhode Island-based warm-weather treat.

“Del’s isn’t really meant for straws,” Caleb explains, demonstrating how the cups (waxed paper, not plastic, so they can crease without breaking) need their sides pressed in to break up and force its cold contents out the top.

Del’s Lemonade even carries a t-shirt of a giant squid (calamari is Rhode Island’s official state appetizer) in their gift shop, a refreshing cup of Del’s lemonade clutched in one tentacle with lemons topping its other arms, that advises, “Squish a Del’s like Charlie the Calamari.”

It’s among this mix of Rhode Island pride, innovation and quirkiness that Caleb flexes the food science skills he’s been learning at JWU.

a photograph taken inside a gift shop, featuring a variety of Del’s Lemonade-branded clothing and products

The Del’s Lemonade gift shop at 1260 Oaklawn Avenue in Cranston, Rhode Island carries everything from Del’s luggage to Del’s lemonade-flavored lip balm.

He’s one of many Wildcats who have gained job experience at this storied local business over the years. In fact, Del’s is so well-known at JWU, incoming Fall 2023 students were welcomed to the Providence Campus with an admissions package containing Del’s lemonade mix.

A Rhode Island Institution

Del’s (the name is short for “DeLucia and Sons”) began with patriarch Signore DeLucia infusing snow with lemon juice and sugar in his hometown of Naples, Italy back in 1840 and selling his invention at a local market. His son Franco DeLucia brought the recipe to America around 1900, and later his own son Angelo DeLucia developed a machine to create a consistent frozen lemonade for that same recipe. Del’s Frozen Lemonade was incorporated in Cranston, Rhode Island in 1948, and more than 75 years later its owner, Angelo’s son Bruce DeLucia, has expanded Del’s into franchises around the world. Del’s flavors have expanded over the years to include watermelon, blueberry, cranberry, peach mango, blood orange and raspberry.

(One flavor NOT available at Del’s: party pizza. The company's recent April Fool’s Day joke introducing "Party Pizza Del's" elicited both thrilled and horrified reactions. The popular Rhode Island social snack consists of cold, cheeseless pizza — essentially tomato sauce on bread — and Caleb and Sang confirm it is NOT among the flavors they are developing.)

As he stood in Del’s lab, Caleb wasn’t alone. Sang Hoon “Sang” Chae ’23, who received his JWU degree in Culinary Science & Product Development with a minor in Food Studies, also came to Del’s as a student intern, securing his full-time job at Del’s after graduation. Caleb appreciates that Sang has always helped him with any questions while Sang says he enjoys being a mentor, and it’s evident watching the two of them move around the lab, in sync as they mix ingredients or hand off equipment, that they have developed a rhythm to working together.

two men in matching blue lab coats pose smiling inside the lab at Del’s Lemonade

Caleb Atkinson ’24, left, and Sang Hoon Chae ’23, right, came to Johnson & Wales for food science education and to Del’s Lemonade for hands-on experience.

Why Study Culinary Science & Product Development at JWU

Caleb was in a culinary academy at his high school in Texas when he learned about JWU’s program from an admissions representative.

“I was immediately drawn to this unique combination of culinary arts and scientific innovation,” he shares. “I have always been passionate about cooking but knew I couldn’t deal with the strenuous environment of life in a kitchen. This program, however, was a perfect fit for me because it would allow me to use my passion for cooking and my love for science in a career that would fit my definition of a healthy work-life balance."

“Additionally, the reputation Johnson & Wales has as a leader in culinary education solidified my decision to pursue a college career here, even during the challenging times of COVID-19,” adds Caleb.

Discovering Internship Opportunities

For the past three years, Caleb has served as a production assistant for JWU’s Office of Student Engagement, where he plans and executes events, running technical equipment and managing venues. “It has been an amazing experience that has sharpened my organizational, communication, problem-solving and leadership skills,” he notes. Yet he wanted to get real-world culinary experience as well, so he looked off-campus to see what he could find.

Using JWU’s Handshake platform, Caleb discovered his Fall 2022 semester internship, which he recalls as a “phenomenal time” as a prep cook, working with and learning from Rogue Island Local Kitchen & Bar owner Ryan Bessette and general manager Bill Pietras. “I highly recommend students apply to intern at Rogue Island, or at least dine in for their amazing brunch,” he notes.

Hoping to find another great internship for Spring 2024, Caleb turned again to Handshake. He applied to more than 20 companies, this time knowing that he wanted to work on food products. He initially envisioned himself working with snacks.

“When Del's reached out to me, I decided to take the position because I believed working on frozen desserts and beverages would broaden my horizons — and might even be more fun than developing snacks!” he shares.

Now Caleb feels prepared for the workforce, noting, “These experiences have provided me with a diverse skill set and a strong foundation for future opportunities.”

What It’s Like Interning at Del’s Lemonade

Caleb took the RIPTA bus to the Del’s office in Cranston, arriving around 7:45am every day. His hours were 8am-4pm on Mondays-Thursdays and 8-11am on Fridays.

For the first 1-2 hours of each day, he would conduct research. “I’d look into any food recalls, food trends and any health or science news related to the food industry,” he shares.

Next, Caleb would start to work on whatever product he was currently developing. “I just finished a product line of five flavored gummies that are going to be infused with THC by a local company in Rhode Island,” he reports. “My next project is a line of sorbets, starting with a cucumber one, and I have another project further down the line which is Del’s breath mints.”

Collaboration is big at Del’s, and Caleb was always ready to step in and work with colleagues, which in addition to Sang include another JWU intern, Shamar Sherwood. Del’s conducts daily sensory analysis tests at 11am and 2pm (the two times of day the palate has scientifically proven to be most accurate), testing whichever project was ready for analysis at the time and discussing the results.

“The sensory analysis test is where we look at flavor, texture, color, etc. and talk about what we liked, what needs work and the next steps for the development of that product,” explains Caleb.

two men in matching blue lab coats examine a bottle of liquid during a sensory analysis test
Caleb Atkinson ’24 and Sang Hoon Chae ’23 conduct a sensory analysis, examining the texture and color of a cucumber honeydew flavor in production.

During downtimes, Caleb had another big responsibility: documentation.

“I work on writing the commercial formula (the formula the product plant uses for the large-scale production of the product), cost analysis, nutrition analysis, nutrition label, ingredient sources and more,” he reports. “I’m also responsible for reaching out to companies regarding ingredient samples and information for any products we are looking to develop.”

Normally, an internship at Del's might also include working on packaging products in the company's product plant. However, because he mainly interned during winter (Del’s is primarily a summer product; although bottled drinks and lemonade mix can be enjoyed all year, Del’s retail locations are typically only open between April-October), his team hasn’t done much packaging.

There’s one other responsibility at Del’s: rinsing the special machine that creates small batches of frozen goodness. Caleb, Sang, Doc and others depend on a clean machine for their daily sensory analysis.

“If I switch flavors, like from watermelon to blood orange, or if we use sticky textures like the honey in cucumber honey, we have to deep clean it, as if to cleanse its palate,” Caleb explains.

photo of a metal machine in the forefront topped with several Del’s lemonade cups, with Caleb Atkinson ’24 in the background
Caleb Atkinson ’24 uses the Del’s frozen drink machine to produce a cup of the latest flavor in development to sample: cucumber honeydew.

Composed and professional throughout the interview, Caleb finally stumped by a question: What’s his favorite flavor of Del’s?

“Actually, I like the subtle sweet tea that they have available in bottles,” he finally decides. Still mulling it over, he adds, “But I’m also a huge fan of the classic soft frozen.”

“The lemonade,” Sang, a fan of the classic, immediately responds when asked the same question. It’s no wonder; the South Korean native is surrounded by lemon décor in the lab as we speak. Del’s takes their main flavor seriously, with even their business cards sporting the shape and color of lemons.

Learning from a Master

Caleb, Sang and other Wildcats work with Demetrios Kazantzis, known universally as “Doc.” One reason for Doc’s nickname is his Ph.D. (as well as post-doctoral scholarship) in Food Science in addition to a master’s in Food Science & Technology and a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. The other reason is that Kazantzis is considered a “genius” at Del’s, having invested 25 years developing Del’s signature all-natural taste and smell. Today, he continues working hard to ensure that Del’s products are tasty and as nutritious as possible.

As Del’s vice president of research and development, Kazantzis loves working with college students like Caleb and Sang who bring their passions and perspectives to their work. “I feel so proud to show something that I developed, and my students also get to feel proud of what they are developing,” he states. “They're very, very helpful and very receptive, they follow directions very well. And in the end, I let them do things on their own after they feel comfortable.”

“It's always nice to see people being able to absorb that knowledge,” he continues. “And that's what we try to do; we try to transfer the knowledge from people, the teaching profession or business to the new generation.”

Demetrios “Doc” Kazantzis speaks while holding a cup of Del’s lemonade

Demetrios “Doc” Kazantzis enjoys seeing students take pride in what they learn to develop at Del’s.

Kazantzis enjoys traveling the world and meeting people familiar with Del’s, and he’s excited about the impact of new products, from new flavors like tangerine orange to new initiatives like smoke products and frozen hot chocolate. He’s constantly inspired by other cultures and develops products in countries such as Japan and South Korea that incorporate different textures, flavors, flowers and fruits. Del’s is constantly expanding its producer contracts around the world so the company can experiment with different fruits and vegetables.

He also tries to be realistic when working with students like Caleb. “Research and development can be tedious; sometimes we have to go over and over it again,” he admits. “I inform the students that sometimes we have to do multiple tests a day and we can be flavored out at the end of the day. But it's very interesting because some of the students discover that they want to be chemists because they like the flavors and they like to taste products.”

“Doc is so helpful with our sensory analysis and in figuring out what steps we take going forward, so it’s been a lot of fun,” observes Caleb.

Adds Sang, “Doc is a trailblazer; he’s gone through it all and does a great job, and he’s a very good food scientist. He was very helpful when I started here, and he helped me become a mentor as well.”

“And he’s really invested in quality insurance and quality control,” adds Caleb. “It’s important to make sure that everything’s good while developing the initial products.”

Applying JWU Skills to Food Product Design

“It feels like everything I’ve been exposed to in my food science labs has come into play while working for Del’s,” says Caleb.

For instance, his Food Science lab helped him develop a basic understanding of how food reacts under varying conditions such as pH, temperature and different processing methods. He also learned about the complex reactions that occur during cooking, baking and food preservation through experimentation and observation. “This lab helped me understand food better through a scientific lens, and it is a lab I think every CFIT student should take to develop the same deeper understanding of food,” he states.

He also completed a Food Ingredient Technology lab that informed his work at Del’s. “I learned about different types of food ingredients, their functionalities and their applications in food production,” he shares. “I was also introduced to all the equipment used in our field such as a pH meter, water activity meter, viscosity meter and refractometer.”

a young man in a blue lab coat concentrates as he pours liquid from one beaker into another

“It feels like everything I’ve been exposed to in my food science labs has come into play while working for Del’s,” said Caleb Atkinson ’24.

Caleb also learned at JWU how to apply knowledge to practice. “My Food Product Design and Development lab let me take all the knowledge and skills I had learned in my previous labs and use it to develop my own product throughout the semester while further developing my understanding of the food science process,” says Caleb. “I used all this knowledge and skills to develop the gummies and other food products for Del’s.”

Cannabis in the Kitchen: Creating THC Gummies

Always innovative, Del’s Lemonade wasn’t afraid to expand into new territory — including edibles. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and THC-infused gummies are popular among adults 18+ in the 24 states where recreational marijuana is legal, including Rhode Island (the same state in which Johnson & Wales offers a Cannabis Entrepreneurship degree).

closeup photo of gummy bears candy

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)-infused gummies range in color, shape and flavor, and Caleb Atkinson ’24 designed a line (not an actual photo) for Del’s Lemonade that he hopes to see on store shelves.

Although research is still being conducted, THC gummies are often credited with therapeutic benefits if taken in the recommended dosage, although their effects can take several hours to manifest. They range in color, shape, texture, potency and taste, and Caleb got to make his mark at Del’s by developing a five-flavor line of THC gummies.

So how did he do it?

“First, I had to formulate a recipe while also considering what ingredients I needed to use to achieve the end result I wanted in texture, flavor and appearance,” reports Caleb. “I used a refractometer to meet my Brix requirements and discover the actual sweetness versus the perceived sweetness.”

Then he turned to tasters. “I used consumer testing to help see how consumers would react to the product and what aspects we needed to adjust to make a more acceptable product,” he continues.

Then on to nutritional details. “Once that acceptable product was developed, I had to use a nutrition database to develop a nutrition label and math to calculate the commercial formula for the product plant to use.”

Caleb does explain that they don’t handle the THC production or ingredients themselves at Del’s; that is handled by an external company.

Being given the green light for his line of THC gummies has been Caleb’s proudest Del’s moment. “When I realized that there was a high chance they were going to be on the shelf, I was very excited. It had been my baby. I was like, ‘I've done it! I've gone from ideation to production.”

“All the success I had while developing the gummies was only possible because I had been equipped with the knowledge and hands-on experience from my time at Johnson & Wales,” Caleb concludes.

Advice for Students Seeking Similar Internships

Caleb notes a crucial tactic for students seeking great internships: the importance of being proactive and persistent in seeking out opportunities that align with your career goals.

“Make sure to be networking with companies and organizations long before you consider applying for an internship, because it will help you solidify connections and provide peace of mind not having to scramble at the last minute,” he advises.

“Additionally, I would recommend being open-minded and flexible when it comes to the types of experiences you pursue.”

Finally, he advises approaching internships with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn.

“Even though Del’s wasn’t my preferred area of product development, I have learned so much just from my willingness to show up and learn,” he states. “In my opinion, this can make a significant difference in the quality of an internship experience and the opportunities that it could lead to in the future.”

What’s Next for Caleb

Although he’s open to exploring any positions within the food science umbrella, Caleb has one main goal: working in a position where he can contribute to the development of innovative food products.

“I’m happy to be working on research and development for new products or flavors, working on quality assurance to ensure safety and consistency of food products or conducting consumer testing to gather feedback and insights,” he says. “I’m just excited about the possibilities each position provides and the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the future of culinary innovation.”

Caleb Atkinson ’24 poses smiling while holding a small tasting cup of Del’s lemonade
Caleb Atkinson ’24, holding a tasting-sized cup of a flavor he’s developing at Del’s Lemonade, recommends being open-minded and flexible when it comes to the types of experiences you pursue.

He’s considering eventually pursuing his master’s degree in chemistry — and maybe even obtaining a Ph.D. like “Doc.”

“I've always loved science and food — and my experience at Del’s has definitely reaffirmed that this is work that I enjoy,” Caleb concludes.

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