3 Award Competitions Artisan Food Startups Should Enter

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Awards are Free Marketing For Small Food Businesses

DIY pickles, pantry and preserves
Pickles, pantry and preserves are just a few of the categories for which food crafters around the United States get sudden fame through awards. Susie Wyshak

There's no shortage of ways for food startups to market their companies on the cheap, thanks to crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Circle Up, pitch competitions, social media and selling through online marketplaces and Amazon...just to name a few.

But when you know your foods and drinks are really the best — and you have a following to prove it — there are 3 food awards programs you should look at entering.

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Enter the Good Food Awards - Like the Academy Awards for Food Crafters

Artisan small batch pickles at Good Food Awards
Artisan small batch pickles waiting to be tasted and judged at the Good Food Awards. Susie Wyshak

Small artisan food, coffee, spirits and beer crafters hit the spotlight each year when the Good Food Awards finalist list gets posted.

Although not all win the Good Food Awards, food buyers can see that the food crafters have created foods and drinks that are amazing and produced using authentic and responsible practices — which are some of the criteria in this U.S.-wide food competition.

For several years, I helped lead the bean-to-bar chocolate and confections (candy) categories. The awards entries, from every U.S. region, have grown yearly, reflecting the trend in people starting food businesses focused on sustainable ingredients. 

Timeframe to enter

Entry periods are usually in early summer, with judging happening in early Fall with the awards ceremony in January in San Francisco.

The Bottom Line

The Good Food Awards is not necessarily looking for or awarding the best foods in the United States. 

They are looking for the best tasting foods for which the maker used thoughtful ingredient sourcing that focuses on the local and organic. (Each category has its own guidelines, so review the criteria for your own category.)

Entrants are not limited to scrappy, DIY hipsters. Companies large and small enter and win. This helps older companies spark new interest with buyers.

Is This Award Program For You?

The ability and desire to sell to retailers is an important aspect of entering. You win, and you're on to potentially big distribution if you so desire!

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Enter the Martha Stewart American Made Contest

Michelle of Nana Joe's Granola
Nana Joe's Granola was a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made competition. Susie Wyshak

Not yet convinced about the value of entering these food awards? Check out Serendipity Confections, who made the finalist list not only for the Good Food Awards but in the Martha Stewart American Made awards in 2015. It was not serendipity that led to these nominations but sheer good old fashioned great food.

The Martha Stewart American Made gallery of finalists and winners looks like the most delicious pantry and home goods store you can imagine. But don't let that scare you away!

Winners have included tiny farms doing good work to build local food systems. You'll find lots of small yet growing food and beverage artisans who have just started up recently (like San Francisco's Nana Joe's Granola, shown here) have gotten nationwide visibility, with support from thousands of people voting for the win. 

Timeframe to enter

The voting period is pretty long, usually during the summer and into Fall, with the awards celebration in November in New York.

The Bottom Line

The American Made competition is seriously stiff competition, and entries need to be equally crafty in packaging and concept as in the food. (On the other hand, the Good Food Awards are a blind taste test for which packing is not a factor.)

Is This Award Program For You?

The awards rely on food and beverage crafters' abilities to thrill the American Made judges and also offer the chance for Audience Choice awards.

The more you can generate votes among fans and customers through social media, the better!

Here's One Food Crafter's Opinion

While it is a great platform to get exposure for your brand, I wouldn’t say the competition encourages artisan food makers. While there is a food category with tons of amazing finalists, the winners in the food categories ​have all been growers or flour brands.

In the food category because again the 4 prizes went to growers, one of which is an investment backed company with over 100 employees. As I said, it’s a good platform, but considering the energy required to compete (voting is every day, six votes a person a day and three weeks of voting), I wonder if we’re not annoying our supporters more than anything with the never-ending pleas to vote.

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Enter the Specialty Food Association's Fancy Food Show Sofi Awards

The Ginger People line up their Specialty Food awards
The Ginger People make space for their many Specialty Food Sofi awards at the trade show. Susie Wyshak

Once you're ready to join the Specialty Food Association, look at the Sofi awards criteria. Like the Oscars, the Sofi awards give these great silver or gold statues to winners. As you roam the Fancy Food Shows, you see the statues lined up in booths — instant marketing.

Lately, a huge number of tiny artisan food crafters and have been winning alongside bigger, veteran specialty food companies. Big Picture Farm's multiple wins will give you the confidence to enter! With just a few goats on the farm, their caramels now blanket the country (in upscale shops anyway).

Timeframe to enter

Check the Specialty Food Association website for details.

The Bottom Line

 So many companies I've interviewed can't emphasize enough how Sofi awards helped them get big sales and get to the next level. You need to have the full enchilada to win:

  • Great taste
  • Interesting packaging
  • Something unique

With all of these awards, the most important thing is to be ready to go into big time production if you win. You don't want to beat out the competition and then realize "uh oh."