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Food Fight Top Prize Goes To Hemp Cookies

Hemp’s growing popul arity got another boost last week with the grand prize at the Great Manitoba Food Fight going to a rural Manitoba woman who has created a cookie with it.

New Bothwell’s Natalie Dueck took home $15,000 and the gold medal for her product she calls her “chocolate hemp snackers.” She was one of eight contenders in this year’s Great Manitoba Food Fight.

Dueck, known as The Bread Lady at the St. Norbert’s Farmers’ Market, said she began developing the product last year.

She was thrilled to win top prize. “It’s awesome,” she said. “This means I can start pursuing getting this product into stores.”

Her determination to pursue commercialization would be one of the reasons she was selected to participate in this year’s competition. The 2011 Food Fight was limited to just 10 applicants to give more time for contestants to interact with the judges. Each applicant submitted an extensive business plan in advance.

Reynald Gauthier, who grows and sells millet seed at St. Claude was back again for a second year, earning the bronze medal and $5,000 for his Millet King Crunchies Cereal last week. In 2010, he won second place for a red millet beer entry.

Gauthier says he benefited greatly from using last year’s prize money to work with the Food Development Centre. He also approved of this year’s requirement that all competitors have a business plan.

“This way you’re playing with real numbers,” he said.

Belinda Bigold, co-owner of High Tea Bakery in Winnipeg took home the silver award and $10,000 cash prize for a gourmet raspberry jam-filled Imperial Cookies. Their cookie has been gaining popularity since they began making it five years ago; it now comprises about 25 per cent of their business, said Bigold.

“We’d like to go into the retail store market because that is a growth area,” she said.

Gary Fulcher, head of University of Manitoba’s faculty of agricultural and food sciences was one of four judges. This was his third time judging and he said he always jumps at the chance.

“It’s tremendous fun and in some cases I see little bits of the work that we do at the university or the Food Development Centre or some of the other agencies in Manitoba.”

Fulcher said he was very impressed with the contestants this year and sees potential for every one of them to create a successful commercial product. But commercialization is a very complicated and difficult process, he said, adding that he believes Manitoba could be doing even more to help entrepreneurs through it.

Jeff Fidyk, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) consumer trends specialist, said this year’s additional requirement that everyone have a written business plan did limit the candidates. The fight ended up with just eight contenders. Last year there were 17.

But dwindling numbers don’t imply the event is losing its lustre, he said.

“It’s just that each year we’ve raised the bar a little bit and demanded more of the competitors and with that it becomes more about the people who are really serious about this.”

Food Fight judge Elizabeth Mitchell, marketing strategist with Edge Business Strategies, reviewed every competitor’s 30-page business plan in advance and offered expert advice and feedback on each one.

“That was free to these competitors,” Fidyk said. “They should be taking advantage of that.”

Other competitors included Carman-based owners of J-Train Foods, Simon Reidstra’s and Jason Sarna’s multi-grain frozen pizza dough and All Natural Meat’s owners Rachel and Roger Philippe, also of Carman, who brought a wild rice sausage. This is also a second year for the couple who in 2010 earned third prize with their breakfast sausage.

Other competitors were Larren-Liyun Xiao of Winnipeg with an oven-ready flavoured fish dinner, Larry Lintott with a Manitoba Grass-Fed Beef Association’s specialty meat pie, and St. Andrews’ Betty Zagodnik, who brought a beet jelly.

Participants were paired with first-and second-year chef students of the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts to help with product presentation.

The Food Fight was held this year at MICA, located at Assiniboine Community College.

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