NEW YORK (Aug. 9, 2016) -- James Faison took a chance when he abandoned his corporate law career to become a purveyor of quality meats. It looks like his move is starting to pay off.
At the Summer Fancy Food Show, Faison was declared the winner of the show's Shelf Showdown: A Specialty Food Pitch Competition. The show is the largest marketplace for specialty foods and beverages in North America.
Faison, founder and owner of Milton's Local based in Hopewell, Va., successfully pitched his company's uncured bacon sausage to a panel of four specialty food buyers who heard pitches from three other first-time exhibitors at the show. The sausage is made with hickory smoked bacon that is cured for eight hours and is an "incredibly healthy product," says Faison, who bested three other contenders to win.
The sausage, available online and at regional supermarkets, sells for $6.99 - $7.99 for a 12 oz. package.
"It has a really bold flavor profile," says judge Kristen Hogan, vice president, Gourmet and Ethnic Channel for UNFI, distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods.
Milton's Local buys its meat directly from 35 local farms in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. and distributes it to a growing number of retailers and restaurants. The win, on the day before the Summer Fancy Food Show, helped Faison attract strong interest from dozens of buyers at the show from top names in retailing such as Whole Foods, Costco, Central Market, and even QVC.
For his win, Faison, 34, a Harvard-educated lawyer, took home a prize of a promotional package from the Specialty Food Association, owner and producer of the Summer Fancy Food Show.
Launched at the 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show, the event, inspired by "Shark Tank," gives specialty food entrepreneurs the chance to give their best pitch, and to get valuable feedback from players on the front lines of retailing. The contest was open to all first-time exhibitors and the contenders were selected through an initial round of judging by members of the Specialty Food Association's Retailer Network Committee. The products were evaluated on four criteria: innovation, packaging, quality and consumer appeal.
In addition to Faison, the Shelf Showdown contenders were Scott Unkefer, Just Panela artisan cane sugar, Shubhra Bhatnagar, Karmalize.me Morning Joe Spread and Spin Mlynarik, Black Market Gelato Sorbet Fresh Mint Gelato.
"Each of the products that made it into the finals was a spin on a more traditional food item," says Gretchen VanEsselstyn, education program director for the Specialty Food Association, who organized the event.
The judges were Hogan, Laura Heifetz, senior buyer, Greene Grape Provisions, John Lawson, regional grocery buyer, Whole Foods Market, and Pete Marczyk, co-founder and president, Marczyk Fine Foods.
The Specialty Food Association will stage the next Shelf Showdown at its Winter Fancy Food Show at Moscone Center in New York. The show runs January 22 – 24, 2017. The contest will be open to first-time exhibitors who are Association members.
About the Specialty Food Association
The Specialty Food Association is a thriving community of food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs. Established in 1952 in New York, the not-for-profit trade association provides its 3,200 members in the U.S. and abroad the tools, knowledge and connections to champion and nurture their companies in an ever-evolving marketplace. The Association owns and produces the Winter and Summer Fancy Food Shows, and presents the sofi™ Awards honoring excellence in specialty food. Learn more at specialtyfood.com.