The N.C. Specialty Foods Association announced the winners of its 2021 product competition on Tuesday.
Featuring 147 entries across nine different categories, this year’s contest was held in line with the association’s goals of supporting and promoting food and drink made in North Carolina.
Sherry Barefoot, a marketing specialist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said she worked extensively with the department's board of directors to prepare the event.
“The goal here for the (N.C. Specialty Foods Association) and the Department of Agriculture is helping small businesses heighten awareness to their products, their brand and hopefully generate sales and recognition for them,” Barefoot said.
She said the process for selecting the winners was quite extensive.
“Each entry is judged on a 10-point scale,” Barefoot said. “There are five different areas that they are judged on: appearance, aroma, taste, texture and aftertaste.”
To determine the products’ scores, Barefoot said, a blind tasting comes first, followed by a discussion. Then, the judges deliver the scores.
But the competition’s judges do more than simply decide the winner.
“The judges consist mainly of food writers, photographers, chefs, restaurant owners, specialty food store owners, reporters and journalists,” Barefoot said. “We tried to select judges that we would consider as influencers or somebody that might be interested in helping promote or write about the competition.”
This year’s winners came from all around North Carolina, with many located in the Triangle. The victors also featured many new faces. Barefoot said several upcoming startups placed in the competition.
The grand champion was Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, which entered its BIG Chocolate Brownie in the Baked Goods category. The company opened in 2001 and has been operated full time by Chris and Debbie Duke since 2003.
Jim Millican, owner of Big Delicious Brand, took first place in the competition’s Deli/Dairy category with his Carolina Sausage Dip.
“It’s a tremendous honor to have won this award,” Millican said. “I’m sure all the winners are very happy and grateful because what it does is it allows us to give more people the chance to try our products.”
Shannon Healy, who owns and works at Alley Twenty Six, a cocktail bar and restaurant in Durham, also placed in the competition. His mixes — Fresh Strawberry Syrup and Pomegranate Syrup — took first and second place, respectively, in the Beverages/Beverage Mixes category.
“Of course we love winning,” Healy said. “But just in general, it’s a pleasure to be part of an organization that is there to showcase local producers.”
For the Condiments category, the winner was Julie Singer of Julz’s Creations. Though she said her biggest seller was hot sauces, it was her Julz's Best BBQ Sauce that took first place in the competition.
“I was very, very surprised,” Singer said. “North Carolina is very particular about their barbecue sauce.”
Beverly Hinton Dew, owner of Dew Drop Chocolates, dominated the Confections category, taking first with her Peanut Butter Yummies and second with her Chocolate Nut Lovers Clusters. She said she has only been part of the N.C Specialty Foods Association since 2019 but has won both competitions she has entered.
The other winners in this year's competition were The Little BeeKeeper, Rising Smoke Sauceworks, Norm’s Farms and SIPPIN SNAX Craft Beer & Wine Snacks. More information about their entries can be found here.
For anyone who is interested in trying the products featured in the competition, there are many ways to do so.
“The North Carolina Specialty Foods Association has a magazine called Dish This!, and a lot of the members are in that catalog,” Dew said.
The N.C. Specialty Foods Association's website also has a search tool for finding stores that carry its members’ products.
“You don’t have to choose whether you want good or local,” Healy said. “You can get great local.”
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