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Contest Offers NC Food Entrepreneurs Fast Track to Market; $10,000 Prize for Innovative Food Ideas

Sept. 4, 2012. The first potato chip was invented in the 1850s, but it was a century later before a new twist – adding seasoning to the crunchy snack – changed the entire industry. Thanks to that innovative idea, munchers today enjoy countless varieties of potato chips, from Cajun Dill to Buffalo Bleu.

Whether it’s a newfangled flavor for a timeless classic or an inventive new concoction altogether, the next big food product is just waiting to be discovered. That’s the aim of “The Big Tasty,” a new contest organized by Asheville-based agribusiness incubator Blue Ridge Food Ventures: offering a North Carolina food entrepreneur a chance to bring an innovative new product or service out of the kitchen and onto the market.

There’s plenty to sweeten the deal: The grand prize winner receives a $2,500 cash award and 100 free hours at Blue Ridge Food Ventures, which includes use of the commercial kitchen space and equipment and mentoring from food business pros. Two runners-up receive $1,000 each and 50 business incubator hours. All winners receive a free Foundations of Business Planning course from co-sponsor Mountain BizWorks, an agency that offers training and consultation for small businesses. The competition is made possible with funding from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund.

“What product could start the next big food trend? That’s what we’re looking for: inspired ideas, whether for a new product or a new food-related service,” says Blue Ridge Food Ventures Executive Director Mary Lou Surgi. “And we’re not looking for something that’s just tasty; we’ll also be judging the commercial viability of food product and service ideas – concepts our experts believe have excellent potential on the market. As always, our goal at Blue Ridge Food Ventures is to help up-and-coming businesses succeed.”

With an entry deadline of Oct. 15, “The Big Tasty” is open to any North Carolina resident with a big idea for a new food product or service, excluding packaged meat or dairy, low-acid products or products containing more than .5 percent alcohol. Contestants pay a $10 entry fee and submit an application package that explains, illustrates and introduces the new product or service. Big Tasty semi-finalists will be selected by Nov. 1 using criteria that include commercial appeal, uniqueness, creativity, and market viability. The inclusion of local ingredients or materials garners the entry extra points.

On Dec. 5, semi-finalists will create a display about their product or idea for the Blue Ridge Food Ventures Holiday Market, competing at that time for both the People’s Choice honor and the Best Display prize, which comes with $150 in award money. Then, starting in January 2013, semi-finalists will receive on-on-one coaching from food business experts. Final presentations to a professional panel of judges will be made in March 2013, to include a taste test. Winners will be announced in April.

“Since our start in 2005, we’ve helped well over 220 food business entrepreneurs launch their products – and coached many, many more.  There are so many talented individuals out there who just need some assistance to get their ideas off the ground,” says Surgi. “We think ‘The Big Tasty’ will inspire and motivate them to take the first step to making a business dream come true. We can’t wait to see what they come up with.”

For an entry form, contest details and more on The Big Tasty, visit www.blueridgefoodventures.org.

More about Blue Ridge Food Ventures
Asheville-based Blue Ridge Food Ventures was North Carolina’s first business incubator specifically designed to provide services to farmers and food entrepreneurs. It is a job creation initiative of AdvantageWest, the regional economic development partnership for the 23 westernmost counties of N.C. BRFV offers food entrepreneurs shared use of an FDA-compliant, 11,000-sq.-ft. commercial kitchen, manufacturing space, and technical and business support.

Small, local food production companies rent time and industrial kitchen space and equipment to produce everything from pickles, pastries and hot sauce to chocolate truffles, herb mixtures, baked goods, nut butters and teas. Caterers and food cart/food truck businesses also use the facilities as a commissary.

Products made at BRFV can be found across the country. Several have received national recognition in national media outlets, including one that won a Cooking Light magazine taste-test award in the artisanal foods category. Blue Ridge Food Ventures also has a natural products manufacturing component, allowing entrepreneurs to produce, for example, medicinal herbs, dietary supplements, extracts and tinctures.

Other products currently manufactured at BRFV include a natural insect repellent and a natural cosmetic line. In addition, BRFV operates only the second community supported agriculture program of its kind in the country, Winter Sun Farms, which provides CSA members with local produce during the winter that was prepared and frozen at the height of freshness during the summer.