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Pitch Perfect: New Products Do Battle at This Food Industry Trade Show

Chef Robert Irvine hosted a pitch competition at the 66th Summer Fancy Food Show—and attendees had a vote along with the judges.

By Kristine Liao July 12, 2018, 7:31 AM EDT

Audience members voted for their favorite innovative food product among Front Burner Pitch Competition finalists. The competition's judges waited on stage as the results were broadcast live.

Photo: Kristine Liao/BizBash

Hot honey, olive oil pearls, and vegan chicken were among the creative products at the 66th Summer Fancy Food Show, held June 30 to July 2 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. They were also the finalists in the Front Burner Pitch Competition, a component of the show designed to focus on industry innovation.

Hosted by chef Robert Irvine, the competition took place July 2 in the center's River Pavilion. Irvine ran on stage as music boomed from the speakers, and he revved up the crowd by asking everyone to stand up from their seats, put their hands in the air and wiggle their fingers, and yell as loud as they could. Once he energized the audience, Irvine began the show, cracking jokes throughout.

Each finalist had five minutes to pitch their product in front of a panel of three judges, who scored the foods on innovation, quality, and chef appeal. Each contestant also created a visual presentation with information and photos of their product being used by chefs. The judges had samples at their podium, and stands in the back of the venue provided samples for attendees.

Mike Kurtz presented first, pitching Mike’s Hot Honey, which adds Brazilian chili peppers to honey from upstate New York. The product appealed to judges with its variety of package sizing, making it accessible to industries ranging from restaurants to college cafeterias. Kurtz said chefs have been using the honey with pizza, charcuterie, fried chicken, salmon, and cocktails among other creative combinations. It earned the highest scores in quality and chef appeal.

Joanne Lacina’s extra virgin olive oil pearls stood out for their caviar-like look and texture. The pearls, produced from Spain’s Oro Bailen olive oil, have been used to add a pop of flavor and a finishing touch to sushi, ice-cream, and cocktails. Its Instagram-able quality earned it the highest scores in innovation.

Sadrah Schadel pitched her company No Evil Food’s Comrade Cluck No Chicken. The vegan chicken is high in protein and features a clean ingredient label. Irvine and the judges predicted the product’s future success as the food industry moves toward plant-based ingredients.

The judges of the competition were Patti Jackson, chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Delaware and Hudson in Brooklyn; Michael Fava, the Italian segment manager at Sysco; and Smitha Haneef, assistant vice president of university services at Princeton University. Members of the audience could text in their vote at the end of the competition.

Kurtz won the competition, receiving a promotional prize package from the association, including an ad in Specialty Food Magazine and an editorial coverage in Specialty Food News. Schadel won the audience favorite award.

Kurtz, Lacina, and Schadel were among the 2,400 exhibitors at this year’s summer food show. Throughout the three days, the Javits Center contained six football fields worth of specialty foods and beverages and attracted about 34,000 visitors. Exhibitors ranged from 54 countries, with Greece as this year’s partner country.

The association’s next food show, the Winter Fancy Food Show, will take place January 13 to 15 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, with more than 1,400 exhibitors expected.

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