As a young boy, Ted Dennard learned the art of beekeeping. Today, he uses his passion for honey to earn a living. He’s the founder of Savannah Bee Company, which sells pure, raw honey and honey products. His Grill Honey took top prize in the annual Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest Tuesday in Atlanta.
His sauce bested Georgia coast shrimp, fresh peach bread, granola, Vidalia onion dressing, olive tapenade and great cheese, to capture Grand Champion at a ceremony led by Gov. Sonny Perdue. Winners were announced as part of Georgia Agriculture Day, March 16.
“That is so awesome. We are so lucky,” Dennard said.
He entered Grill Honey, the company’s newest blend, to introduce the market to a new way of looking at honey.
“Adding honey to grilled foods is great way to add a sweet glaze to salmon or other meats,” he said.
The annual contest, conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, was held at the Georgia Freight Depot in downtown Atlanta. Winners were selected in seven categories. Dennard’s Grill Honey won the barbecue and hot sauce category, a sweet surprise for a spicy competition.
“We never expected to win anything,” he said. “The barbecue category has such depth in flavor we didn’t expect anything. But, we are so honored and thankful for this award.”
Learning the art of beekeeping as a small child, Dennard still tends about 35 hives that render the honey used in some of the company’s products. The company sells several honey varieties including tupelo, orange blossom, acacia and winter white.
“Every honey has a different color, taste and sugar. Tupelo is my favorite and tastes great on everything, but different honey varieties are used for different foods,” Dennard said.
Blended from mountain sourwood and wildflower honeys, Grill Honey has a more robust, complex flavor and is generally darker than the other blends.
Grill Honey was one of 24 products sampled and judged by a panel of food brokers, buyers and other food industry experts. Contestants were awarded points based on flavor, Georgia theme, unique or innovative qualities, commercial appeal and originality. Finalists were chosen from 79 entries from all across Georgia.
“We try to include every major state commodity to get a broad representation,” said Sharon Kane, contest organizer and a UGA CAED food business development specialist. This year’s final products included poultry, peanuts and blueberry juice as well as olives, goat cheese and shrimp.
Judges indicated it was the best competition so far by marking the highest scores ever received. They were also the closest. Three or four points separated first from fourth in several categories.
“Without a doubt, this is the best group we’ve ever had,” Kane said.
Other category winners were:
- Confections - Ricky Vining of Lane Southern Orchards won with Lane’s Fresh Peach Bread.
- Dairy - Cathy Spivey and Robin Schick of CalyRoad Creamery won with Clouds of CalyRoad Camembert.
- Jams, jellies and sauces - Vicki and Larry Forton of Olive Affairs won with Gourmet Olive Tapenade.
- Meat product - Chip Reed of Blue Marlin International won with Blue Marlin American Shrimp.
- Other products - Douglas Horn of Vidalia Valley won with Organic Vidalia Onion Tomato Basil Dressing.
- Snack foods - Susan Cordell of Goodness Gracious! Granola won with You Struck Gold.
Winners earn the right to have their products stamped with the 2010 Flavor of Georgia logo.
Food processing is the single largest part of the manufacturing sector of the state,” said John McKissick, director of the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. “The importance of this industry is continuing to grow.”
“We gave out awards, but that’s not the point. The contest was designed as a way to develop food entrepreneurs and showcase their products,” McKissick said. “We provide education and applied research together to develop and grow their business. All contestants receive feedback from food industry leaders on packaging, ingredients and taste. And they have an opportunity to meet people who can help them grow their business.”
Flavor of Georgia is only a starting point for many of the category winners, Kane said. She followed up with the 2009 winners and found that nearly 80 percent experienced increased interest in their products as a result of the contest. Also, 50 percent saw an increase in the publicity for their products.
The annual food contest is sponsored by the CAED in partnership with the Governor’s Agricultural Advisory Commission, Georgia Agribusiness Council and UGA Department of Food Science and Technology.