Local businesses get boost at Georgia Ag Day

Lee Ann Meyer, of Lucky Lady Pecans in Harlem, meets judge Richard Johnson at her booth at the 2012 Flavor of Georgia Competition at the Georgia Freight Depot in downtown Atlanta on March 12. Lucky Lady's Sweet & Salty Pecans were one of 25 products chosen as finalists for the Flavor of Georgia Competition this year. There were more than 125 products entered into this year's contests.



ATLANTA -- The owners of Byne Blueberry Farms of Waynesboro gained some bragging rights Tuesday by winning the confection category with his chocolate-covered blueberries in the Flavor of Georgia contest run by the University of Georgia’s agriculture department.

The award came on Georgia Ag Day, complete with a speech by Gov. Nathan Deal and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. The overall winner was High Road Craft Ice Cream’s brown-butter-praline ice cream. They’re from Chamblee.

For owner Dick Byne, the benefits are more than adding the prize to his product’s label. It’s the introductions that come from the contest.

“It gets you in the door because of the way they award you,” he said. “... It’s the first step in the door.”

He knows because he’s won before with a special blueberry sauce in the 2007 contest. That win helped him snag contracts with Whole Foods and EarthFare.

That’s exactly the results UGA officials hoped for when they began sponsoring the contest seven years ago.

“Even ones that don’t win get good contacts into some stores,” said Kent Wolfe, director of UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, the formal sponsor along with Black.

More than 120 Georgia-based companies entered the contest. The 25 finalists were invited to Atlanta for judging and exhibition across from the Capitol. The judges were buyers for major grocery chains who provided feedback forms to the contestants on everything from taste to packaging and marketing.

Some of the contestants are repeats like Byne. Others are just trying to get off the ground, like Jill Shoop of Wakinsville, the owner of Cool Pies.

She is researching how to begin making and distributing her frozen fruit pies seasoned with hot peppers, aiming for a June launch date.

“I’ve been making pies for years, and people kept saying ‘You’ve got to find a way to sell these,’” Shoop said.

Tracey-Luckey has been selling shelled pecans wholesale for nearly a century, but it was only in recent years that the company began seasoning them and retailing them from its operation in Harlem and online. Entering its Sweet & Salty pecans with the praline coating was an effort to branch out, according to employee Lee Ann Meyer.

“Obviously better recognition, free publicity is always great,” she said.

Rick Barrow is hoping the contest will help him make the transition from struggles in the recession-battered construction industry. He took his wife’s rum-ball recipe and began marketing rum cakes as Musketballs, Broadsides and Buckshot.

“You build a house; you build a cake. It’s the same thing,” he said. “I’ve built many a one.”

At the awards ceremony, Deal noted that the growing middle class in countries like China, Brazil and India create marketing opportunities as overseas families’ gain the income for more exotic foods.

“This macro-shift that is taking place offers some opportunities for Georgia,” he said.

Georgia’s 50,000 farms already generate $12 billion in business for the farmers, up 6.6 percent in 2010, the most recent year figures are available.