The (many) flavors of Georgia

UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development helps locally grown and produced foods make it to market

The (many) flavors of Georgia

Laurie Jo Bennett shows off her Muscadine Pepper Jelly, which won the jams, jellies and sauces category.

Photo by: Peter Frey

Tim Forrest stands in front of a display for High Road Craft ice cream, swirling a creamy sweet spoonful of Brown Butter Praline in his mouth. He has nothing but praise for the sweet treat but questions the carton—a nondescript brown cardboard pint with pecans and caramel on its side.

“Is there anything on here about Georgia,” Forrest, a consultant in the food industry and a judge for the 2012 Flavor of Georgia food and beverage contest, asks owner Nicki Schroeder. “I’d put a big fat sticker on it, ‘Made in Georgia.’”

Brown Butter Praline ice cream made by High Road Craft Ice Cream and Sorbet of Atlanta was the grand champion of the 2012 Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest.

Schroeder, who began marketing the ice cream out of Chamblee 18 months ago, points to the small print, which boasts the “gently toasted sweet cream butter and Georgia pecans” used in the product.

“This is great feedback,” Schroeder tells Forrest, one of 17 judges, many from the food and beverage industry, who will select the best of the Flavor of Georgia finalists.

The next day, Schroeder learns her High Road Craft Brown Butter Praline ice cream has been selected the Grand Prize winner, following a 2011 win in the dairy products category for High Road Craft Caffeine and Cacao ice cream.

Sponsored by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development in partnership with the Georgia Center of Innovation for Agribusiness, the governor’s office, Walton EMC, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Agribusiness Council and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department of Food Science and Technology, the contest provides Georgia food producers an opportunity to showcase their products and increase their sales opportunities.

Between 70 and 80 percent of the 2011 winners saw an increased interest in their products as a result of the contest, according to the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.

“A lot of people have great ideas and great products,” center Director Kent Wolfe says. “They didn’t have any way to get exposure.”

Since its win last year, High Road has placed its ice cream and sorbet in Whole Foods stores throughout the Southeast. They expected to begin selling their product in area Fresh Market stores in April. High Road products are also in area hotels and restaurants, Scroeder says.

Lauri Jo’s Southern Style Canning products can be found in 38 states.

Lauri Jo Bennett (M ’86) launched the company three years ago in her hometown of Norman Park. Her Blueberry Pepper Jelly was the “people’s choice” award winner in the 2011 contest. This year her Muscadine Pepper Jelly placed first in the Jams, Jellies and Sauces category.

Also in the finals was Spice Rum Cake Musketball, from Olde Savannah Rum Cake LLC in Savannah.

“It was just a hobby,” Bennett, a former schoolteacher, says of her foray into canning. “I had no idea I’d be doing this full time.”

The company’s motto is “Preserving the South one jar at a time.” “We grow it, pick it and process it,” Bennett says. “We know what goes in every jar.”

The contest began seven years ago as a small event sponsored by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Costco. Ten to 15 Georgia food producers entered.

This year there were 115 entries, in six categories. Three to four finalists were selected for each category.

Joe Hynes, a food industry consultant who judges the annual contest, says he offers the finalists the same constructive criticism he offers the food chains and restaurants that hire him.

“It’s important to have a clear message and statement about ingredients and food safety,” he says. “Is it more of the same? Is it something they make enough of to make it successful? Do they understand the product and are passionate about making it?”

Many producers were frustrated that they had nowhere to promote their product. So Hynes got one of his clients, the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, to put the finalist’ products on its shelves for a week. Some are still there.

Dick Byne (BS ’76) is a Georgia farmer that has found success on the shelves. Blueberry jellies, jams, salsas, syrups and chocolates produced on his Waynesboro farm since 1980 can be found in Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, Earth Fare and other specialty shops around the South.

Byne’s Blueberry Farm won the confections category this year with its dark chocolate blueberries. Byne won in 2007 with his blueberry salsa and was a finalist in 2008 with his blueberry pecan glaze.

One of the earliest Georgia farmers to grow blueberries commercially, Byne has been in the business since 1980. The operation is a family affair. His daughters manage quality control, which he credits for his success.

Retailers “require high quality,” he says. “My product is just as good in the middle as in the top, bottom and outside.”

Richard and Linda Byne’s family business, Bynes Blueberry Farm in Waynesboro, won the confections category this year with dark chocolate covered blueberries.

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