Anew table-ready fish product called Walleye Wonders knocked out the competition at this year’s Great Manitoba Food Fight and earned Meda Olson first place and $15,000 worth of research-and-development expertise from the Food Development Centre.
“I knew I had a good product that’s different,” said Olson, a homemaker from St. Martin in the northern Interlake and wife of a Lake Manitoba commercial fisher. She plans to use her prize money to help develop product packaging and labelling.
Olson was one of 10 contestants at the six-year-old competition, held during the Capturing Opportunities business forum. She also took home a third-place win at the same event’s Entrepreneurial Boot Camp.
Other Food Fight winners picked by judges from the Manitoba Institute for Culinary Arts were Keith Murphy of Winnipeg, who won second prize for Buckshots, a buckwheat snack food, and Jo Jo Cormier of Flin Flon, who won third for a boreal berry bar.
Those prizes, worth $10,000 and $5,000 respectively, can also be used for things such as recipe refinement, marketing and business planning at the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals at the University of Manitoba or other Manitoba research facilities.
Buckshots have already hit store shelves, and the Food Fight award will help with product promotion, said Murphy, who also had a top 12 finish in the natural food products at an international gourmet food show in San Francisco earlier this year.
Reaching the podium isn’t easy, said three-time entrant Reynald Gauthier. The St. Claude farmer won third place last year for a millet cereal and second in 2010 for red millet beer.
“Everyone who comes here has a winning product,” said Gauthier, who entered millet bread this year.
The research and development money won previously has gone towards commercializing a millet flour and baking mix, which Gauthier said is about a year away from market.
It’s no small feat to move from kitchen scale to processing plant, said John Thoroski, one of this year’s judges and a dairy plant manager at the University of Manitoba. His job was to gauge how well competitors understand the technical aspects of food processing, including the scale-up process.
“I saw some really fantastic products, and some of them I think do have potential for value-added processing,” he said. “The point is, how do they get there? That’s a different story.”
This year all competitors also had to include a business plan in their entry. Those varied from basic outlines to ones which detailed everything right through to marketing, said Colleen Walmsley, the business-plan judge and a business adviser with the Women’s Enterprise Centre.
Requiring a business plan helps to ensure entrants are serious about developing their product, said Jeff Fidyk, business development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.
“The whole purpose of this program is it’s an intake device for us to learn about new clients and build relationships with these clients so that we can work with them and help them commercialize their product,” he said.
Former Food Fight winners include Arborg-area farmer Scott Sigvaldason who launched a hulless oat variety Cavena Nuda as “rice of the Prairies” and award-winning Winnipeg chocolatier Constance Popp. She spoke about successful business development at this year’s event.