sofi Bloopers, Blunders, and Random Notes

May 11, 2010

By Louise Kramer, NASFT Communications Director

We’re enjoying a moment of calm in the 38th sofi™ Awards contest before the next wave of entries starts pouring in for the last two awards: Outstanding New Product and Outstanding Product Line.

So far, a great panel of specialty food experts has selected 125 finalists in 31 Awards categories, from Outstanding Appetizer, Antipasto, Salsa and Dip to Outstanding Vinegar.  Finalists are listed at The judges spent three very full days at our new offices in midtown Manhattan tasting and evaluating 1,570 entries, including a rather prodigious amount of the world’s finest chocolate, cheese, olive oil, cookies, pasta sauces, and so much more.

Actually, the judges tasted almost everything. They were not required to taste entries for “Outstanding Non-Food Specialty Item” – how could we make them bite into a refrigerator magnet or muffin tin??? – nor did they have to sample submissions for Outstanding Pet Food. So hats off to judge Gantt Bumstead, co-president of United Supermarkets! He actually tasted a dog biscuit. His review: delicious!

The 2010 sofi Team

It is great fun to tell our members that their products have been selected as finalists. After all, a sofi honor means lots of publicity, potential sales, industry kudos, and the glow of victory for friends, family, staff and colleagues.

Here’s how one finalist, Kari Ani Shiozawa, reacted. Her Bakers Basics Banana Bread Mix is a finalist for Outstanding USDA-Approved Organic Product. “It was a huge blessing for me and I cried. My husband cried too,” she told me. “This is such a huge accomplishment. When you work so hard to get someplace and you get that recognition, it is tremendous. I still cry sometimes.”

The less fun part for us here at the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade is having the break the news to those hundreds of member companies who entered the contest but did not have their products selected as finalists. We totally “get it” that these awards are very important, and that our members put their heart and soul and money and dreams into making their great products. For many, a sofi makes it all seem worth it.

Here are some bloopers: One of our sofi staffers dropped a ketchup entry en route to the judging for “Outstanding Cooking Sauce or Flavor Enhancer,” and boy did it make a mess. And all the judges saw it.

A mini blooper: when it was time for the judges to taste and evaluate the 110 entries for Outstanding Chocolate—one of my favorite categories!–we realized that many of the packages were not opened. Time is of the essence during sofi judging. So we put out an all points bulletin to the entire NASFT staff (in the form of me running around begging for help while trying to look calm and professional). Special thanks to: Mary Jacobsen, executive administrator and Bill Lynch, senior director, membership and exhibitions, for jumping in.

Many thanks to our Part 1 judges, most of whom are pictured here: Sue Bicksler Taub, Holbrook Cottage, Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.; Gantt Bumstead, United Texas, Lubbock, Texas; Mustafa Coskun and Robert Rosa, Garden of Eden Marketplace, New York, N.Y.; Patrick Crowl, Woodstock Farmers’ Market, Woodstock, Vt.; Franck Deletrain, John O’Neil and Lou Piuggi, Patina Group, New York, N.Y.; Faye Greenberg, Winn-Dixie, Jacksonville, Fla.; Madeline Romo, Savor the Flavor, Sierra Madre, Calif.; Lordes Reynoso, Institute of Culinary Education, New York, N.Y.; Celia Barbour and Rachel Mount, O, The Oprah Magazine, New York, N.Y.

Today, the sofi shelves are empty. The sofi team is wrapping up some important work. This week I am taking three days off to rejuvenate before sofi, Part Deux. Part 2 entry forms and information were mailed to NASFT members last week. Forms are also posted at

Don’t forget to read the FAQ’s online. Questions? Email us at

And finally, thanks to all NASFT members who have entered so far this year, and for making it a great competition.


Taking a quick break to report in from day 1 of the sofi Awards judging for the 38th sofi Awards for the outstanding specialty foods of 2010.

April 14, 2010

By Louise Kramer, NASFT Communications Manager

I am so thrilled that it has all come together today: Chef David Ward is whipping up baked goods, sous Chef Alistair Smith has started cutting up cheese, and the sofi support team is humming.

Our panel of nine judges arrived here at our new offices on Madison Avenue in Midtown Manhattan at 9 a.m. today. We were a little nervous behind the scenes because we’ve never done the sofis here and it is quite an operation! In the past week we received 1,570 entries, all great food products vying for the coveted sofi Gold Award.

We’ll present the Gold Awards at our Summer Fancy Food Show on June 28 in a red-carpet ceremony hosted by Dan Barber, a leading light of the artisanal and local food movement.

The judges come from across the US. We have a specialty retailer from Southern California from a family-owned business, a Dallas-based grocer whose company has dozens of stores, a big regional supermarket chain in the Southeast, a fab New York City retailer with several stores brimming with specialty and natural products from the members of our trade association. Oh, and the food editor of a fabulous major magazine, a chef instructor from a great cooking school, and the owner of a great store in Vermont, and the owner of a lovely shop in New York’s Westchester Country. To cap it off, we have an executive chef from a prominent New York restaurant company that has a branch in LA.

When we assembled the panel, our aim was to have a range of expertise and opinions represented.  It is there tough job – someone has to do it! — to select finalists across 31 awards categories this week, from Outstanding Appetizer, Antipasto, Salsa or Dip to Outstanding Vinegar.

In early June, we’ll have a panel come to our offices to judge the last two batches of entries, for the coveted sofi Gold Award for the Outstanding New Product of the Year, and Outstanding Product Line. They’ll pick finalists for those two awards. Sort of like coming up with the list of Oscar nominees.

So far today the judges have completed judging one category to pick the nominees/finalists, and are about to finish the second. The sofi team, lead by Marilyn O’Hara, the project manager, and Nicole Denis, the culinary manager, are running around quite a bit to make sure all entries are set out just right, that the fact sheets are there, that the judges have plenty of water and tasting spoons and napkins, etc.

This is my third year working on the sofi Awards, and I am very relieved that it has all come together. And I am especially relieved that our new oven is working! We weren’t quite sure it would be.

Here’s to a great sofi 2010. The finalists for the first 31 of the 33 Awards will be announced the week of April 19. The finalists for those last two Awards will be announced the week of June 7.

The sofi Gold winners for each of the 33 Awards will be selected by attendees at the Summer Fancy Food Show. All the finalists picked this week will be set out on long tables in a private room for retailers and buyers to taste and evaluate in order to make their picks. It will all be monitored by an outside accounting firm. They’ll tally the results right there so we can announce them at the show just a few hours after the judging of the finalists ends.

But I’m racing ahead of myself. We need to have a list of finalists first. And that’s what’s starting to happen today with the judges sampling about 500 products today. They’ll be here tomorrow, Thurs., April 15, and Friday, April 16. No doubt they will eat light this weekend.

It’s sofi Time!

March 30, 2010

By Louise Kramer, Communications Director

Attention NASFT members! You can now participate in a live Q&A session with Louise via Twitter.  Tune in this Thursday at 1:00pm EST. Have questions about Twitter? Contact Vivian Friess at

It’s sofi time! The NASFT  38th sofi Awards contest starts this week. A sofi is the highest honor in the specialty food industry, and it is my honor to be running the contest for the third time. The deadline for submissions is Thursday, April 8, for Part 1. Click here for info on the contest, more dates and details.

For the next 13 weeks, it will be sofi 24/7 at our new offices in midtown Manhattan. We expect NASFT members to submit a whopping 2,000 entries for the 33 different sofi Awards. Our team of chefs and great sofi crew will prepare them all for our national panel of judges. The judges will select about 110 Silver Finalists across the 33 awards categories.

Chef Ming Tsai with the winners of Outstanding New Product 2009, from last year's sofi Awards ceremony.

This process will culminate in the gala red-carpet sofi Awards ceremony at the Summer Fancy Food Show on June 28. We have a great host and presenter this year: Dan Barber, a leading figure in the artisan and local food movement, not to mention a highly-regarded executive chef and restaurateur (and one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!  We get lots of questions from NASFT members about the sofi entry forms, how the contest works, etc. After all, a sofi award means your product is the best of the best, and that of course means more sales, more prestige, and confirmation that you were not crazy to pursue your dream of making and selling dark chocolate, goat cheese, or spice rubs…or jams, snack chips, sausage and more.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions, plus a few tips:

How many samples should I send?

  • Send enough for 10 small tasting samples. Do not send us a case of product. We don’t need it.

I’m having trouble filling out the fact sheet online. It’s driving me nuts!

  • I know, I know! We made a mistake when we created the interactive form and have corrected it. All forms are available via

Where should I send the entry?

  • NASFT/sofi Awards, 136 Madison Ave., 12th floor, New York, NY 10016.

How does the judging work?

  • The submissions are judged category by category. For each award, all submissions are prepared and set out for the judges to taste and evaluate. Each is set out on a tray containing samples for the 10 judges. The product package and the fact sheet are placed next to the product samples so the judges can taste the item and look at the package, and the information you provide on the fact sheet. The judges sample and evaluate each item. After they’ve sampled everything, they enter their votes on a ballot sheet prepared for each category by Marilyn O’Hara, our incredibly efficient sofi project manager, and her data management assistant. The votes are tabulated by Ron Tanner, NASFT’s VP of Communications & Education to determine the Silver Finalists in each category. (Ron is my boss).

What forms do I need to fill out?

  • You need to fill out one registration form listing each entry. You may enter a maximum of five products in the first part of the competition. You must also fill out a separate fact sheet for each entry. We need two copies of each fact sheet; three if the product is perishable.
    : The sofi awards require lots of logistics and running around behind the scenes. The forms help us keep track.

Do judges taste the entries for the Pet Product award?

  • Not usually! But two years ago a judge from a major national retailer ate a dog biscuit. I was impressed.

I am totally confused about Part 1 and Part 2. What gives?

  • We divide the sofi judging into two parts to handle the huge # of products flowing into our offices, and to help our judges manage their schedules. They donate five full days of their time to the judging, and we try to make it easier on them by splitting the work into two parts. The first part has 31 of the 33 Awards categories for them to judge.The second part has only two Awards categories, but they are by far the largest, Outstanding New Product (we had 414 entries last year for that one award) and Outstanding Product Line (we had 172 entries for that award last year).

If I enter my fab chutney in Part 1 for Outstanding Condiment, can I enter it for Outstanding New Product in Part 2?

  • Nope. There is no “double dipping.” You may enter each product only one time in the contest. The judges do not want to taste and evaluate the same product twice.

How does the product line award work?

  • Product Line is the only one of the 33 Awards where we permit members to submit products they have already submitted to the other Awards categories. That is because the judges are evaluating the entire line, not an individual product. To qualify, your line must have at least six different products under the same brand name. To enter, you must submit three, and only three, products in your line that will give a good sense of the entire line. Those three may be products you’ve already entered, or totally different products. Again, the idea is to present your line. You also need to send a sell sheet or other piece of marketing material to show that your line has at least six items. So that means if you have only three products in your line, you are not eligible for this award.

Why can’t I send all the products in my line?

  • We can’t handle the number of products if everyone submitted their entire line. That’s why we ask for three examples only.

I need to talk to a NASFT representative.

  • Send us an email at saying you need to talk. We check it constantly and will get back to you as soon as possible. Or, call the sofi hotline at 212-482-6440 x 305 and leave a message. We’ll get back to you just as soon as we can.

What more can you tell me?

  • Good luck! NASFT members have such outstanding products, and we want to encourage you all to go for the gold.