UGA FoodPIC often behind successful Flavor of Georgia contest winners

By for CAES News

For the past 12 years, Georgia-based food companies have competed in the Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest. Being named a finalist — or better, a winner — in one of the contest’s categories is a great boost for companies seeking success in the competitive food industry. A few of last year’s winners had one thing in common: they have worked with the University of Georgia’s Food Product Innovation and Commercialization (FoodPIC) Center.

Held annually, Flavor of Georgia was created and is organized by the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development in partnership with Gourmet Foods International, the Office of the Georgia Governor, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Georgia Agribusiness Council and Nadine’s Classic Cuisine. 

Flavor of Georgia was created to showcase products to food industry experts and grocery buyers who serve as the contest’s judges. Products are rated on qualities like flavor, innovation, use of a Georgia theme and market potential. Winners earn the right to add “Flavor of Georgia contest winner” to their packaging and promotion efforts.

UGA researchers at FoodPIC, located on the UGA Griffin campus, help food entrepreneurs with product development, packaging, food safety, consumer acceptance and marketing.

In 2018, New World Chocolate Milk won first place in the Flavor of Georgia dairy products category. Produced by Rock House Creamery in Newborn, Georgia, the chocolate concoction is the brainchild of Pike County High School student Nikki Dodson, who interned as a STEM student at FoodPIC.

“New World is a high-end gourmet chocolate milk with a hint of mocha; it’s like a premium Starbucks coffee,” said FoodPIC Director Kirk Kealey. “The idea was to create a very distinctive flavor profile that you don’t quickly forget.”

FoodPIC helped the creamery develop the first batch of the beverage, developed the nutrition facts panel and ran a shelf-life study.

Pride Road, from Smyrna, Georgia, was a finalist in the 2018 Jams and Jellies category with its hibiscus jelly. FoodPIC helped the family-owned company take their product from raw material to end product.

“They brought us raw, freshly harvested hibiscus flowers, which are more commonly used as a beverage tea in the Middle East,” Kealey said. “We took the fresh flowers and dried them and then used that to make a range of hibiscus products: jelly, jam, tea and chutney. The family submitted the jelly in the Flavor of Georgia contest.”

Bunkhouse Beverages in Athens, Georgia, reached out to FoodPIC for advice on finding a bottler for their product, Ginger’s Bunkhouse Spicy Ginger Ale. The beverage was one of three finalists in their category last year.

For the past four years, an expert from FoodPIC has served as a Flavor of Georgia contest judge.  

“By helping judge the contest, we are networking with representatives of Georgia food companies, and that’s how we make introductions,” Kealey said. “We’ve met other judges who are now great resources for our future clients. They represent grocery stores, brokers and distributors. That’s what impresses me about (the Flavor of Georgia contest). It’s not just a food contest; it’s a major networking event where entrepreneurs can meet the people they need to connect within Georgia.”

The UGA Department of Food Science and Technology works with every new food product that enters the market, said UGA food scientist Anand Mohan, who leads the department's Extension programs.

“We make sure products meet the standard of identity as it is written by the FDA and the minimum state and federal food safety requirements,” he said. “We also review labels so products are marketed correctly. We are the first screening gate for product food safety and regulatory requirements before the product is marketed in commerce. We look at all aspects of food safety including the formulation and packaging.”

Next, the product must be approved by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Mohan and his team have assisted several Flavor of Georgia winners, including Olympus Green Mountain Teas, whose Olympus Green Mountain Blueberry Citrus Tea won first place in the beverage category last year. The company has several Greek tea blends and Mohan suggested that they develop a blueberry-flavored tea using Georgia-grown blueberries.

The final round of 2019 Flavor of Georgia judging is set for Tuesday, March 19. The grand prize winner will be awarded an exhibit space at the Georgia Food Industry Association annual convention — valued at more than $1,500 — and three consultation sessions from FoodPIC, a $1,500 value. All finalists receive a one-year Georgia Grown membership, courtesy of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Registration for the 2019 contest is open at flavorofga.com. Early registration is $100 per product entry through Jan. 18. The price then increases to $150 and registration remains open until Jan. 28. For more on FoodPIC, visit foodpic.uga.edu.

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