You can excuse Cori Poon if she doesn't believe food fights are restricted to high school cafeterias, fraternity-house beer bashes and Spanish tomato-throwing festivals.
That's because the owner of Sweet C Bakery — an online operation that sells tasty treats such as cookies, shot glass cheesecakes and doughnut muffins — took home first prize in the ninth annual Great Manitoba Food Fight Wednesday night at De Luca's restaurant and store.
After making a six-minute presentation before a panel of judges, providing samples and then withstanding a 20-minute question-and-answer session covering profit margins to packaging, Poon was awarded the top prize of $11,000 in cash and services from Manitoba Agriculture and the Manitoba Food Processors Association, which co-hosted the event.
"Our goal is to give deserving competitors a hand up to commercialize their product or improve their labelling, marketing or product testing," event chairwoman Shauna McKinnon said.
Poon plans to buy an automated cookie depositor for her winning product: ready-to-bake lime-and-toasted-coconut cookie dough balls.
"I don't even know if I can put it into words (how much winning means). There are a lot of financial things you have to do to get your product on the shelves," she said.
Customers with a sweet tooth can purchase her line of 10 flavours online or at farmers markets. She's planning to get into retail and wholesale distribution as soon as she can.
Second place and a prize of $7,000 went to Carly Minish, owner of Smak Dab Foods. Her specialty is gourmet mustards, and her winning entry isn't one you'll find in the Heinz lineup; maple mustard. Flavoured with Canadian maple syrup, it has a naturally sweet taste as well as being both vegan and gluten-free.
"I find it appeals to a wider range of people because it's sweeter. It's like a family mustard," she said.
Third place and a prize worth $3,500 went to Glenda Hart, whose Canadian Birch Company created birch bacon jam. Her primary product line is syrup made from birch trees, but she decided to branch out into some value-added offerings.
She said she needs to get some nutrition labels and do some shelf-life testing to make sure the jam doesn't go bad too quickly.
"I might also want to do some large-batch practice to see what we have to do to go from making 30 to 40 jars at a time to making 400. It's going to be different," she said.
HERE'S a snapshot of the top three finishers in the Great Manitoba Food Fight
First place: Sweet C Bakery
Owner: Cori Poon
Products: Cookies, slices and bars, mini-desserts and 10 flavours of ready-to-bake cookie dough balls.
Available: Online at www.sweetcbakery.ca.
Second place: Smak Dab Foods
Owner: Carly Minish
Products: Gourmet mustard (honey horseradish and beer chipotle).
Available: Online at www.foodiepages.ca. Some flavours available at De Luca's, Vita Health, La Grotta Mediterranean Market and Red River Co-op grocery stores.
Third place: Canadian Birch Company
Owner: Glenda Hart
Products: Birch syrups and jam. Future offerings include a birch whiskey toffee sauce dessert topping and a birch BBQ sauce.
Available: Online at www.foodiepages.ca and www.canadianbirchcompany.com. Retail outlets include De Luca's, Generation Green at The Forks and Benjamin's Gourmet Foods in Selkirk.