SFA Reveals 2020 sofi Award Winners

Julie Gallagher | 25 Aug 2020

Marinated Grilling Cheese, Rosemary Sea Salt Fleur de Sel Caramel, and Chocolate Hazelnut Sesame Milk are among the 2020 sofi Award-winning products, announced today by the Specialty Food Association.

Launched in 1972, the sofi (specialty outstanding food innovation) Awards celebrate the culinary excellence and creativity of the SFA’s members. This year, 157 winners across 49 categories were selected in the Gold, Silver, Bronze, and New Product categories. A list of winners can be found here.

“The 2020 sofi entries demonstrated the continuing innovation in specialty foods, in ingredient combinations, flavor profiles, and consumer appeal,” says Ron Tanner, vice president of education, government, and industry relations at the SFA. “The pandemic has challenged the supply chain but specialty food entrepreneurs continue to show creativity in their kitchens.”

More than 1,800 product entries were originally entered into the sofi Award program. The blind tasting was scheduled to take place from March 23 – April 3 at the Food Innovation Center at Rutgers University in Bridgeton, NJ, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of judging activity.

Faced with perishable entries, the SFA and FIC collaborated with Gateway Community Action Partnership, a local nonprofit, which received donated specialty foods that included breads and tortillas, coffees and teas, and a wide variety of cheeses, dips, yogurt, honey, soups, snacks, chocolates, and specialty candies.

With the cancellation of the Summer Fancy Food Show, and its members experiencing an unpredictable marketplace, the SFA forged ahead with its sofi Award program. Nearly half of the entries needed to be resubmitted due to expiration dates. Judging resumed in late July with a panel of culinary experts sampling their way through the products through early August. The judges share their experiences on this video.

Before entries were tasted by the judges, who are food buyers, chefs, and food writers, they were prepared by a chef according to package directions. Products such as barbecue sauce, for instance, were used to flavor proteins such as chicken and tofu. Items were judged without packaging, pricing, or any brand identification. 

Judges adhered to meticulous safety procedures and were spaced 12 feet apart in a controlled environment, with samples prepared and overseen by FIC staff. 

Products competing for Gold, Silver, and Bronze Awards are judged 70 percent on taste and 30 percent on ingredient quality. Products competing for the New Product Awards are judged 60 percent on taste, 20 percent on ingredient quality, and 20 percent on innovation.

The highest scoring product is named the sofi Product of the Year Award winner, and will be announced during the SFA’s Specialty Food Live! virtual event, taking place Sept. 21-24.

Related: sofi Award Judging Underway; SFA to Host Virtual Specialty Food Live! Event.