The third time proved to be the charm for Adriana Coppola, owner of A&A Alta Cucina Italia. Coppola – a native Italian who produces balsamic vinegars, oils, pastas, pestos, salts and jams using only natural, locally sourced ingredients – had entered the Flavor of Georgia Contest twice before winning the grand prize in 2015.
“The first time I entered with a honey balsamic, and [the judges] said it was not a Georgia product. But I didn’t give up, and last year, I entered with a cherry balsamic. It made it to finals, and the feedback from the judges was that the product was amazing, but still didn’t represent Georgia. So I said OK, the third time is the charm, and I entered a blueberry balsamic. I didn’t expect to win my category, and I really didn’t expect to win the grand prize,” Coppola says.
The annual contest is hosted and organized by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Center for Agribusiness & Economic Development with the support of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. It spotlights innovative food products that are not only flavorful with broad commercial appeal, but also uniquely Georgian.
Coppola’s winning balsamic incorporated Georgia blueberries sourced from nearby farms.
“When people think of Georgia, they think of peaches, but our blueberries are amazing. Not only are they nutritious, but the flavor is so versatile, you can use them for everything,” Coppola says. “I felt like the blueberry balsamic was a way to honor my two homes – Italy and Georgia.”
Coppola says the decision to use locally sourced ingredients comes naturally.
“I believe in local. It goes back to [my Italian] roots and tradition when everything was sourced locally, and small businesses would do business with their neighbors,” says Coppola, who is now experimenting with peaches and muscadine grapes. “Sourcing locally is good for the community, and when the community is doing well, the businesses do well. Georgia has given me so much, I want to give back to Georgia.”
Three was also the magic number for Wynn Causey Bakke, partner and owner of Causey Foods Inc. in Vienna. Causey Bakke entered her family’s barbecue sauce and finished as a finalist in 2012, 2014 and 2015. The company claimed the top prize in the Barbecue Sauce division with two different sauces in 2014 and 2015.
“My dad created our barbecue sauce recipes 30 years ago specifically to compete in barbecue competitions. We created Causey Foods Inc. in 2009 to start distributing the sauces. We’re born and bred Georgians. That’s what drove us to the competition,” she says. “We want to be considered one of the best Georgia flavors.
When that label goes on the shelf, it lets people know that we have been voted one of the best by our peers.
For me, Georgia is where it all starts when it comes to agribusiness. We’re just another outlet to show what Georgia can produce.”
Both Coppola and Causey Bakke say winning the Flavor of Georgia Contest has helped their businesses reach new customers.
Contest organizers say nearly 80 percent of finalists see an increase in their sales and business contacts following the contest. But Coppola says, for her, the biggest benefit to entering the contest is the ability to network with other small business owners.
“To me, [Flavor of Georgia] is important because it’s a way to get involved with the Georgia Grown program. I believe in it; they have been really helpful and have given me and other small companies a lot of support. The networking is really important. [Georgia Grown] is like a community of business owners. They’re like my family.”
Causey Bakke agrees. “It’s helped with our connections with the Georgia Grown group as well as networking with the other contestants. It helped build those relationships and partner network with each other to make us and others stronger,” she says.