Former IDA client wins Pitch Competition

Just announced on! (article and photo by Deanna Ting):

Last evening, Jan. 16, at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, the Specialty Food Association hosted its inaugural Shelf Showdown: A Specialty Food Pitch Competition, and declared a winner—Jack Kuo, founder of Fuller Foods, based in Portland, Oregon.

The free event, open to all exhibitors and attendees of the 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show, allowed four first-time Fancy Food Show exhibitors and Specialty Food Association members to pitch their products to a seasoned team of specialty food buyers. The retail judges provided the entrepreneurs with crucial feedback and advice for promoting and marketing their brands and products.

“This is a trip inside the mind of the buyer,” said Gretchen VanEsselstyn, education programs director for the Specialty Food Association, who organized the event.

During the competition, products were evaluated on four criteria: innovation, packaging, quality, and consumer appeal, as well as a “pitch factor” in the case of a tie. The winning pitch from Fuller Foods for their Serious Cheesy Puffs barely edged out that of Wildway, who pitched their grain-free instant hot cereal item.

Each of the four finalists were chosen by the Association’s Retailer Network Committee to participate in the competition. They included:

Darryl Cohen, director of sales, WB Kitchen in Loveland, Colorado, maker of Ona Chocolate Chip Cookies that are paleo-friendly

Kelli Koehler, co-founder, Wildway in San Antonio, Texas, makers of an instant grain-free hot cereal

Lori Krieger, founder, Taste Elevated in Castroville, Texas, makers of a new smoked tomato and onion chutney

Jack Kuo, founder, Fuller Foods in Portland, Oregon, makers of Serious Cheesy Puffs

The judges included Chris Tjersland, partner brands development manager for New Seasons Market; Patricia Pohanka, director of merchandising and marketing for European Imports, Inc.; Jean Greenfield, grocery and HABA manager for Canyon Market; and Sara Feinberg, director of online sales and marketing and communications manager for Market Hall Foods.

For Kuo, the Shelf Showdown was an invaluable experience not only for the win but for the feedback delivered by the panel of judges. “The questions they asked were really analytical—they were questions that actually get into the areas that buyers in the industry, and producers like us, really care about when making decisions,” he said. “That’s very critical for us to know.”

Greenfield, one of the judges, said she wanted to be a judge because, “I love to help out smaller vendors. It’s so nice to be ale to help these guys early in their process.”

Some of the feedback Greenfield and her fellow judges gave to Kuo included advice about his packaging, and the development of new flavors for Fuller Foods’ line of Serious Cheesy Puffs.

As the winner, Kuo received a prize package that includes a professional press release, an advertisement in Specialty Food Magazine, and press coverage in Specialty Food News and Specialty Food Magazine.

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