High Road Craft Ice Cream and Sorbet, of Atlanta, was selected as the grand champion of the 2012 Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest.
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and Gov. Nathan Deal were on hand to announce the winners on March 13 as part of Georgia Agriculture Awareness Day at the Georgia Freight Depot in downtown Atlanta.
The annual contest, conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, is a chance for food businesses to showcase their new products.
"Flavor of Georgia is a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain publicity and exposure for their products,” said Sharon P. Kane, food business development specialist with the UGA CAED. “It’s also a chance for them to network with other food entrepreneurs and industry experts.”
Brown Butter Praline Ice Cream wins over judges
High Road’s Brown Butter Praline Ice Cream was one of 25 products sampled and judged by a panel of food brokers, buyers and other food industry experts. In addition to winning the overall grand champion, High Road Craft Ice Cream took home first place in the competition’s dairy category.
Husband and wife team Nicki and Keith Schroeder have been producing their small-batch ice creams since April 2010. Their products are featured at Whole Foods markets through out the Southeast and will be in Fresh Market stores nationwide in April.
High Road Craft Ice Cream’s Caffeine and Cacao flavor ice cream won first place in the dairy division during the 2011 Flavor of Georgia competition.
Nicki Schroeder handles the marketing side of the business while her husband Keith, who is a chef, handles product development. They both feel that the Flavor of Georgia competition is the ideal place to field-test new flavors before they go to market.
“It’s really a good way to get feedback,” said Keith Schroeder. “You get young and old, rural and urban here in the same place. You don’t see that very often, and it’s important because different people have different tastes.” High Road Craft ice cream and 24 other finalists were chosen from around 115 entries from all across Georgia.
Flavor of Georgia is a boon for food entrepreneurs and grocery merchants alike
An army of food industry experts -- including chefs, grocery buyers, food service personnel and agricultural marketing executives -- rated the products based on qualities like innovation, use of Georgia theme, market potential and flavor, said James Daniels, a UGA CAED food business development specialist.
“Everybody has been saying this is the best one so far,” said Daniels, who has been for tallying the Flavor of Georgia scores for several years. “I can tell from the results. All the scores were pretty close. There wasn’t a large spread.”
2012 Flavor of Georgia competition Judge Brent Demarest, a produce purchaser for Whole Foods, enjoyed most of the products he sampled Monday.
“It can be difficult for a small producer, just starting out, to get a distributor or to have the contacts they need to sit down with someone at a store like Whole Foods,” Demarest said.
Showcase events like the 2012 Flavor of Georgia competition help entrepreneurs get the word out about their products. The events also give retailers the chance to find quality local products their customers are starting to demand.
“There is a big push for local food right now,” Demarest said. “People are very interested in knowing what they are eating, knowing where it came from and how far it traveled and knowing that they’re money is staying their community.”Other category winners were:
• Confections – Richard Byne, of Byne Blueberry Farm of Waynesboro, won with his Dark Chocolate Blueberries.
• Jams, jellies and sauces – Lauri Jo Bennett, of Lauri Jo’s Southern Style Canning in Norman Park, won with her Muscadine Pepper Jelly
• Barbecue and hot sauces – Griffin Bufkin, of Southern Soul Barbecue in St. Simons Island, won with Sweet Georgia Soul Signature BBQ Sauce.
• Other products – Mercier Orchards, of Blue Ridge, won with the company’s Sparkling Apple Cider.
• Snack foods – Diane Pfeifer, of Strawberry Patch and Grits Bits in Atlanta, won with her Grits Bits Vidalia Onion Baked Cheese Snacks.
• Meat - Debra McFadden-Bryant, of GeeChee Girl Foods of Albany, won with her Seafood Gumbo.
• People’s Choice – Cindy Fulghum, of Three Generations of Georgia in Dewy Rose, won the People’s Choice Award with her Three Generations of Georgia Chicken Log.
Winners and finalists earn the right to have their products stamped with the 2012 Flavor of Georgia logo.
Flavor of Georgia is only a starting point for many of the category winners, Kane said.
She followed up with the 2011 winners and found that between 70 and 80 percent experienced increased interest in their products, sales and business contacts as a result of the contest.
This contest is sponsored in partnership with the Center of Innovation for Agribusiness, Office of Gov. Nathan Deal, Walton EMC, Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Agribusiness Council and UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department of Food Science and Technology.
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)