NEW YORK — Pistachio spread, goat milk caramels and sheep milk yogurt were among 33 food and beverage products recognized as the year’s top innovations in the $109 billion specialty food category.
Presented during the Summer Fancy Food Show on June 29 in New York, the 2015 Specialty Food Association’s sofi (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation) Awards were selected from 2,771 entries across 32 awards categories, including best chocolate, cheese and savory snack. Finalists were chosen by a national panel of experts, which featured top buyers from Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Williams-Sonoma and The Fresh Market, among others.
|Ann Daw, president of the Specialty Food Association.|
“A sofi means a product, and the people behind it, have arrived,” said Ann Daw, president of the Specialty Food Association. “This year’s finalists represent a devotion to excellence and innovation in specialty food that continues to fuel our industry.”
Previous sofi winners have included Ben & Jerry’s, Terra Chips and Perrier.
The 43rd annual awards were revealed in a red carpet ceremony by Alex Guarnaschelli, a celebrity chef and frequent judge on Food Network’s “Chopped.”
The best new product of the year was awarded to Raspberry Rhubarb Goat Milk Caramels from Big Picture Farm L.L.C., Townshend, Vt., which manufactures small-batch confections using organic ingredients and milk from free-ranging goats. The goat’s milk is steeped with local Putney Mountain Winery cold-press rhubarb wine and caramelized with a heaping portion of raspberries. Big Picture Farm also won the sofi Award for outstanding confection with its Goat Milk Chai Caramels.
Another goat milk product fetched the best new product line award. Goat’s Milk Caramel sauces from Fat Toad Farm, Brookfield, Vt., is created on a small family farm with milk from dairy goats. Varieties include original, salted bourbon, vanilla bean, cinnamon, Irish whiskey cream, cold brew coffee, spicy dark chocolate, and Vermont maple.
Salted Caramel sauce from Coop’s Microcreamery, Watertown, Mass., was pegged as the best dessert topping of the year. The product is made with cream from a local dairy and butter from a local dairy co-op with caramelized sugar crafted in small batches.
The best chocolate of the year comes from Laurie & Sons, a New York-based family-run startup that sources local, organic and sustainable ingredients for its collection of unique confections. The winning Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Toffee features handmade toffee made with real licorice root enrobed in dark Belgian chocolate and sprinkled with Black Hawaiian Lava Salt.
On the savory side, the standout snack was awarded to Sweet Chili Chickpea Chips from Maya Kaimal Fine Indian Foods, a Rhinebeck, N.Y., maker of refrigerated Indian simmer sauces. Inspired by an authentic South Indian chickpea and rice snack, the gluten-free and Non-GMO Project verified chips are seasoned with cayenne and asafetida and dusted with a Thai spice. To achieve a light and crispy bite, the company experimented with more than 100 trial batches over the course of a year.
Kettle Pipcorn by Pipsnacks L.L.C., New York, was named the best sweet snack of the year. The mini popcorn is popped in small batches with olive oil and hand-seasoned with sea salts by brother-sister team Jen and Jeff Martin.
The cream of the crop in crackers is Laiki Black Rice Crackers from Grains of Health L.L.C., Fremont, Calif. The light and airy crackers contain only three ingredients: exotic black rice from Thailand, sustainable-farmed palm oil and sea salt.
The sofi Award for best vegan or gluten-free product honored Gluten Free Ginger Zinger Cookies from Tate’s Bake Shop, Southampton, N.Y. Made with rice flour, the crispy, thin and buttery cookies deliver a tangy punch from chunks of crystallized Thai ginger.