The 2016 Great Manitoba Food Fight’s top prizewinner is a unique small-batch beer, signalling the creativity and new potential in this province’s emerging craft brewing sector.
John Heim of Torque Brewing Co. in Winnipeg last week took home the gold package worth $10,000 for the Witty Belgian Wheat Beer the company has developed.
The beer is a traditional Belgian wheat beer with hints of orange, lemon, lime and coriander, now being brewed in Manitoba. Heim was presented with the prize the competition held in Winnipeg September 21 where prizes were also awarded to a Brandon-based cookie maker and a Winnipeg-based food product developer.
Katy Unruh of Katy’s Kookies in Brandon took the $7,000 silver prize for her Cherries Jubilee Natural Lean bar. The bronze $3,500 award went to Kimberley Bialkoski of Flora and Farmer in Winnipeg for their Applekraut, an Asian-inspired twist on traditional sauerkraut and made with cabbage, apples and spices.
All three winning competitors have not yet fully commercialized their new products, but amply impressed the panel of judges with their beverage and food creations and business pitches.
Other products vying for title this year varied from a dried sausage popular in Southern Africa, several chocolate products, a herb and garlic ‘marinade-in-a-bag, the popular Icelandic vinertarta dessert, and a specialty syrup made from birch trees.
Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said the competition continues to provide a venue to support entrepreneurs as they move toward commercialization while recognizing how important they are to the provincial food sector. “Entrepreneurship is thriving in Manitoba’s food sector, and we continue to see new, innovative and delicious food products coming forward,” he said in a government release.
This is the 10th year of the food fight, which became a popular annual and stand-alone event that was originally part of former Capturing Opportunities and Rural Forum events.
Twenty applicants applied this year, said Shauna McKinnon, business development specialist with the Food and Agri Product Processing department of Manitoba Agriculture, adding that the calibre of competitors is getting higher with each year. All applicants must submit to a stringent vetting process to become one of the 10 selected to compete. They don’t require a full-fledged business plan, but must be able to respond to questions about marketing, cost of production and other key areas related to food product manufacturing.
“Most of the applicants are already working with our department so they know the steps they need to take, and are well prepared,” McKinnon said.
The Great Manitoba Food Fight is sponsored by the Manitoba government and Food & Beverage Manitoba, in partnership with De Luca’s.
Dave Shambrock, is executive director of Food and Beverage Manitoba, formerly the Manitoba Food Processors Association, another partner organization. The food fight is an excellent way for startup companies to get some honest feedback about their products and their plans for the market, Shambrock said.
“While it’s always nice to have judges say positive things about a product, thought-provoking questions that make the business owner rethink some aspect of their product or marketing plan can be far more valuable.”
The food fight has helped foster some substantial new food companies over the years including the 2009 gold-prizewinning GORP energy bar, produced by a Niverville-based company and now sold in over 600 stores across Canada. Another successful startup includes the 2014 bronze-prizewinning Adagio Acres naked oats, produced at a farm near Lundar and now sold in nearly 50 specialty grocery stores in Winnipeg and also served in 30 restaurants.