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Flavor of Georgia to host 10th annual celebration of Georgia's tastiest food products By Merritt Melancon

Whether it’s a specialty sweet treat, small-batch pork sausage or pimento cheese made from Grandma’s secret recipe, the University of Georgia’s Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest shines the spotlight on the state’s craft foods.

The contest, which will celebrate its 10th year in 2016, has served as a springboard for food manufacturers — assisting them in testing new products, reaching a larger audience and breaking into new markets to expand their sales.

Registration for the 2016 Flavor of Georgia contest, which is conducted each year by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, is now open at flavorofga.com.

For 10 years, the Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest has supported the food and drink production industry in Georgia, which saw over $45 billion in sales in 2013, according to a Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development study.

“Flavor of Georgia is a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain publicity and exposure for their products,” said Sharon P. Kane, a UGA food business development specialist and the contest’s coordinator. “It’s also a chance for them to network with other food entrepreneurs and industry experts.”

Over the years, more than 1,000 food products have been entered in the contest. Today, many of those products are sold in national and regional supermarkets. Others have increased their wholesale distribution and Internet sales or experienced better traffic at local farmers markets.

In 2015, 100 percent of finalists in the Flavor of Georgia contest reported increased interest in their products and an expanded network of business contacts. Some also indicated an increase in full- and part-time employees.

“It’s a great experience that provides networking, exposure and learning opportunities you won’t find any other way,” said one of those finalists, Margaret Amos of Columbus-based Southern Straws.

Finalists and winners participate in a number of high-profile industry showcases throughout the year following each annual contest, including the Georgia Grown Symposium, the Georgia National Fair and showcase days at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. They also receive industry feedback and use of the Flavor of Georgia logo for their product’s packaging and promotional materials.

Product categories for the 2016 contest include barbecue sauces; beverages; confections; dairy products; jams and jellies; marinades and sauces; meat and seafood; salsas, chutneys and condiments; snack foods; and miscellaneous products. There is no limit to the number of products an individual business can submit, but only Georgia-based businesses may enter.

Judges evaluate each product based on flavor, texture and ingredient profile. Also considered are potential market volume, consumer appeal and product representation of Georgia.

Registration closes Feb. 5, 2016. Contest finalists will participate in the final round of judging and a public tasting March 14-15 as part of the Governor’s Agricultural Awareness Day in Atlanta.

For more information or to register, visit flavorofga.com or call 706-583-0347. Follow twitter.com/FlavorofGA on Twitter and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/flavorofga.

(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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