Creators of mead, beer and sausages have taken home this year’s top prizes at the Great Manitoba Food Fight.
Hobby winemaker Mitchell Omichinski, a Portage la Prairie resident and longtime beekeeper won first prize of $15,000 for his Maple Mead, produced from honey and maple syrup.
Second place of $10,000 went to St. Claude farmer Reynold Gauthier for his specialty beer made with red millet, and third $5,000 to Carman owner of All-Natural Meats Roger Philippe for his Apple Breakfast Sausage.
The winners will use their prize money to help cover costs for product commercialization using the expertise of Manitoba’s extensive research and food product development network.
A signature event since 2007 at the annual Capturing Opportunities business conference, the Great Manitoba Food Fight gives contestants the opportunity to pitch a panel of judges on their new product, get feedback and network with other fledgling Manitoba food product developers
This year’s 21 entries included several back for another try.
The prizes and bragging rights that accompany winning are big enticements, said Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives’ Urban Go Centre manager Mavis McPhail. “We have five repeat entrants this year who’ve come with an improved product. They want to win.”
Participants had six minutes to describe their food item while a panel of four judges tasted their product, and grilled them on their business and marketing plans.
Manitoba Food Processors Association (MFPA) executive director Dave Shambrock, said he’s seen increasing sophistication in both the products and their makers’ business plan in the three years he’s been on the judge’s panel.
“The products are exceptional,” he said. “And what’s really encouraging is to see these companies using local ingredients, the best of what farmers grow and raise, and turning them into value-added products.”
These new product makers also have a realistic stragetic approach, given the challenges of getting into large retail markets, he said.
“Many are focused on a niche market distribution strategy that makes sense for their company,” he said.
A one-year free membership in the MFPA is included in the food fight’s prize packages.
Judging alongside Shambrock was last year’s winner Colleen Dyck and Cherry Hunt, a past business and culinary instructor at Assiniboine Community College and Janice Meseyton, a product development consultant at the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie.
Other competitors’ submissions included beet juice, fish jerky, black bean brownies, dill noodles, a health bar, chokecherry jelly, flax crackers and red pepper relish.
Notable past entrants in the food fight include Cavena Nuda -Rice of the Prairies, a rice substitute made with oats created by Arborg farmer Scott Sigvaldason, and the chocolate creations of Winnipeg-based chocolatier Constance Popp.
Popp’s Manitoba-shaped bar placed second in the 2009 food fight in Brandon, and took first at the pre-event in Winnipeg. The food fight is a great venue for helping new companies become better known, said Popp. “It definitely gave us exposure,” she said.
Popp’s “Manitobar,” a province-shaped bar, has gone on to be included in government trade mission events and was a featured product in a reception at the Vancouver Olympics this winter.