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40+ Years on the Cutting Edge

Since 1972, the sofi Awards have honored the best in specialty food.

Today, sofi celebrates culinary creativity across America and around the globe. The 2016 Winners and Finalists were selected by a national panel of culinary experts who blind-tasted and evaluated a record-breaking 3,200 entries across 28 categories. These products have been selected as those that truly stand out and represent the best in the industry. Honorees are featured at the Fancy Food Shows, where they'll draw the attention of the media, industry accolades, and important new accounts.


What Winners & Finalists say about the sofi Awards

The sofi Awards are regarded by buyers and other vendors as the highest honor in our industry.

– Robin Béquet, Béquet Confections, 2011 Winner

Winning the trophy opened the floodgates. Sales increased by 100% by the fourth quarter.

– Amy Farges, Transatlantic Foods, 2011 Finalist

Since we won, our retail store footprint increased 740% in major markets with a 1200% increase in online sales.

– Reuben Canada, Jin+Ja, 2013 Winner

Sales have increased 50% since we won the gold!

- Vincent Kitirattragarn, Dang Foods, 2014 Winner

It pretty much jump-started our business to 100 stores in a little over a year.

– Michelle Lewis, Spoonable, 2012 Finalist

What Buyers say about the sofi Awards

Kroger carries over 100 sofi Winners and Finalists. These are the products that deliver excitement and quality to our customers.

– Mathis Martines, Strategy and Innovation, Kroger

We look to sofi Winners and Finalists because we know that they represent only the highest caliber of products.

– Alison Kunetka, Food Development, Williams-Sonoma

When evaluating new specialty foods to add to our tasting rooms, sofi Winners start at the top of the list—they are consistently in the top 10% of our bestselling specialty food items.

– Eric Larson, Director of Retail Strategy, Cooper’s hawk Winery & Restaurants

A sofi Award is a solid endorsement of a product’s excellence. Our sales team is able to present these products to our customers with confidence that they are of superior quality and on trend.

– Beth Haley, VP, Vendor Relations, DPI Specialty Food

The sofi Awards are always exciting times for us at Kings. We’re anxious to find out about the sofi Finalists and Winners to see what is already in our store and what we may have missed.

– Jeff Binder, VP Center Store, Kings Food Market


Entries to the sofi Awards reflect the breadth and diversity of the specialty food industry. Every eligible entry is carefully assessed by a panel of passionate and knowledgeable food professionals including chefs, culinary experts, academics, food writers, and category buyers.



Thanks to your feedback, we improved the competition to make the process more fair and transparent. Judging will take place strictly on a blind basis (without packing, pricing, or other identification), to ensure all entries are judged solely on taste and quality. Judges will only know the product type and its ingredient list.

Product SKUs that were sofi Winners in 2015 are not eligible to be entered again for the 2016 competition. This gives a brand-new crop of member products the chance to take home the gold!


Judging Criteria


70% Taste

Taste is judged by evaluating a product’s flavor, appearance, texture, and aroma, and how these qualities come together as a whole.

  • Flavor How pleasant are the taste and aftertaste of the product?
  • Appearance Is the product aesthetically appealing?
  • Texture How is the consistency and mouthfeel?
  • Aroma Does the aroma positively impact the overall experience?

30% Ingredient Quality

This is an evaluation of a product’s ingredients, with consideration given to the use of ingredients in creative ways.

  • Additives or Artificial Ingredients Are there any unnecessary additives or artificial ingredients in the product or involved in its manufacture?
  • Creativity Are there any unexpected ingredients being used, or are common ingredients being used in unexpected ways? Is the overall result a positive, creative experience?

Tasting Process

All products will be prepared, heated, or cooked according to producer’s instructions and presented to the judges for tasting. For example:

  • Marinade sauces and spice rubs will be used on a protein (e.g., chicken or tofu)
  • Dip and baking mixes will be made according to package instructions
  • Hot beverages will be served hot

Winners & Finalists Selection

A panel of culinary and category experts tastes and evaluates each entry in a blind tasting across two weeks in May at Specialty Food Association offices in New York. For the first time, the panel selects both the winners and finalists during the judging; in prior years, winners were selected by buyers at the Summer Fancy Food Show and announced at the show. 

The winners and finalists are determined using a scoring system based on taste and ingredient quality. Each judge scores each entry independently and the average score is then calculated. 

  • Winner selection: Within each of the 28 categories the entry that earns the highest score is named the winner.
  • Finalist selection: Each category has at minimum one finalist; the number of finalists is proportional to the number of entries in that category. The top 4% become finalists. 

Meet the Judges

Jennifer Abadi, Cookbook Author
Jennifer Abadi is a cooking instructor and personal chef in New York City specializing in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Central Asian cooking. She is the author of, "A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes From Grandma Fritzie's Kitchen," as well as the blog, "TooGoodToPassover.com."

Katherine Alford, Senior Vice President, Culinary Production, Food Network
Alford manages all day to day for the test kitchen servicing both Food Network and Cooking Channel along with additional Scripps Networks Interactive culinary needs, overseeing culinary projects for television, digital as well as brand extensions, including recipe development and testing for Food Network Magazine.

Ken Blanchette, FreshDirect
Ken Blanchette has worked for FreshDirect for 15 years sourcing specialty foods from around the world. Ken prides himself on his palate for tasting the fine points in many foods from coffee, chocolates, olive oil, salumi, wine and anything intriguing, authentic and innovative.

David Bonom, Vittles & Verbs
David Bonom, CCP is a chef, food writer and recipe developer. His work appears regularly in such publications as Cooking Light, Better Homes and Gardens, Eating Well, Fine Cooking and many more. 

Bianca Borges, NBC’s Today Show
Prior to 16 years as Culinary Director for NBC's Today Show, Borges did recipe development for large-scale food companies and food publications, and worked in professional instruction at the Institute of Culinary Education.

Arthur Bovino, Mouth.com
Arthur Bovino is the managing editor for the Brooklyn-based indie food site Mouth.com. A culinary school-trained food and travel writer and editor who helmed The Daily Meal, Arthur has cooked in New York City restaurants, and with Daniel Okrent, launched the office of the public editor at The New York Times.

Simone Cormier, National Spice Coordinator, Allegro Coffee/Whole Foods Market
Simone Cormier is a Louisiana Cajun residing in the Rockies and is passionate about travel, spices, food, and wine. As a Global Spice Coordinator and chef, she specializes in spice product development and international sourcing.

Kelly Corzine, Provisions General Manager, Greene Grape Provisions

Sara Feinberg, The Pasta Shop, Director of Online Sales, Marketing & Communications Manager
As director of e-commerce for markethallfoods.com, Sara Feinberg draws on over 12 years of experience as a retail manager and specialty foods buyer. She has also served as both buyer and store manager for The Pasta Shop, Market Hall Food’s renowned specialty foods store and two-time NASFT® (now known as SFA®) Outstanding Retailer Award recipient.

Cristina Flores, Eataly USA
Cristina Flores joined the founding Eataly New York team as the Education & Events Director. In 2013, Cristina moved into the position of Assistant General Manager of Eataly Flatiron, and after spending a couple years there acquiring a strong background in store operations and products, Cristina became a Head Buyer, with a focus on fresh categories, for Eataly USA. 

Laura Granston, Research & Development Manager, Kings/Balducci’s
With more than a decade of experience in the culinary industry, Granston currently she leads the product development teams at Kings/Balducci’s. She continually searches for the next big trend, and loves sharing her passion for great food with those around her.

Kathy Gunst, WBUR/NPR
Gunst is a James Beard award-winning food journalist and the author of 15 cookbooks. Her latest book, “Soup Swap,” will be published in September 2016 (Chronicle Books). She is the Resident Chef for NPR’s “Here and Now,” heard on more than 500 public radio stations and she writes for the Washington Post, Eating Well, Yankee, and others.

Julia Heffelfinger, Assistant Food Editor, Food & Wine Magazine
Julia Heffelfinger lives in New York City and is a sucker for everything crunchy, salty, spicy and tangy. As a native Minnesotan, she believes that it does not get much better than an ear of sweet summer corn.

Laura Heifetz, Senior Buyer, Greene Grape Provisions
Heifetz, a native New Yorker, has been slinging cheeses and specialty foods for more than 10 years. She is now the senior buyer of all grocery and packaged perishables at Greene Grape Provisions, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hannes Hennche, Executive Chef, Meisterdish
For more than a decade Hannes has cooked in many celebrated and Michelin starred kitchens all over the world. Now he is head chef of Meisterdish in New York, a service that sources, preps, and delivers food from local farmers to home cooks on-demand, offering accessible 15-minute recipes to making cooking easy and enjoyable.

Sergio Hernandez, Brooklyn Larder
Sergio Hernandez, who is now the Director of Business Development & Sales for Rogers Collection, opened and managed the cheese and provisions shop Bklyn Larder starting in 2009. Prior to that, he served as general manager at the Brooklyn wine bar/pizzeria franny’s, and worked in the kitchen under Michelin Star Chef Gray Kunz at Café Gray NYC. Before moving to Brooklyn, he worked with food distributor Provisions International in Vermont, where he sourced, purchased and marketed new specialty food products, including cheeses, cured meats, olive oils and vinegars.

Alycia Johnson, Senior Buyer, Sur La Table
Johnson has been a Senior Buyer at Sur La Table for more than eight years. She enjoys buying food, talking about food trends, spectacular culinary experiences, and cooking.

Wook Kang, Assistant Professor/Culinary Instructor, The School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College
Chef Kang holds certifications with the American Culinary Federation as CEC, ACE and also holds certifications as MCFE and CFBE.

Billy Kooper, Executive Chef, Route 66 Smokehouse

Patrycja Kotowska, Purchasing Manager at Chelsea Market Baskets
Kotowska began working in the food industry as a sales/marketing intern for two consecutive years for Atalanta Corporation eight years ago and has been slinging cheese and buying specialty food ever since.

Alison Kunetka, Manager, Williams-Sonoma Food Development, Williams-Sonoma
As Manager of Food Product Development at Williams-Sonoma, Kunetka knows the ins and outs of creating the perfect new product. Prior to joining Williams-Sonoma eight years ago, she worked as a chef in San Francisco and is currently active on several local food and wine judging panels.

Sophie Kzirian, Mouth.com
Sophie Kzirian is the Customer Happiness Manager at Mouth.com, the leading online site for indie food, spirits and wine, where she manages the brand experience on a person-to-person level, helping hungry people discover American-made food and drink crafted by small-batch makers.

Daniel Lachs, Culinary Coordinator, Northeast Region, Whole Foods Market
Danny Lachs, esteemed chef and 12-year veteran of the New York City dining scene, is the culinary coordinator for Whole Foods Market in the Northeast region. Before joining Whole Foods in April of 2015, he previously spent his time running DML Hospitality Group, a boutique hospitality consulting company based in the NY area.

Jason Lang, Senior Brand Manager, Corporate Brands Strategy and Innovation, The Kroger Co.
Lang has been with Kroger more than 16 years and held division positions before joining Kroger General Office. He has been a key part of the company’s enterprise as a Merchandising senior category manager, Corporate Brands Strategy & Innovation category strategy manager and, most recently, Corporate Brands Strategy & Innovation brand manager on the Simple Truth portfolio.

Eric Larson, Director of Retail Strategy, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants
In his current position since 2012, Larson was Founder/Proprietor of Marion Street Cheese Market from 2004-2012 (Winner, Outstanding Retailer 2010, Specialty Food Association).

Traci Leonard-Turi, Sickles Market
Leonard-Turi does freelance recipe development and testing and also teaches culinary classes to children. She has a Master's in Education and was trained at The International Culinary Center in Manhattan.

Sara Masoni, Product and Process Development Manager, Food Innovation Center, Oregon State University

Mike McMahon, Senior Category Manager, Bristol Farms
McMahon has worked at Bristol Farms for more than 25 years. He is responsible for private label strategy, procurement, new store layout and item authorization.

Carrie Mesing, Director of Private Brands, FreshDirect
Carrie Mesing is Director of Private Brands for leading online fresh food grocer, FreshDirect. She was instrumental in developing FreshDirect’s private brand programs, Just FreshDirect and Cloud 9, from ideation to launch, and is passionate about source identification and transparency in both branded and private branded goods. Prior to joining FreshDirect, Carrie worked at Daymon Worldwide, the world’s leading private brand brokerage firm. She serves as a mentor to startup food brands through the food accelerator Accel Foods.

Sara Moulton, Author, Chef, and TV personality
Host of public television’s “Sara's Weeknight Meals,” Moulton’s career stretches back more than 30 years with prestigious positions as executive chef of Gourmet magazine, food editor of ABC-TV's "Good Morning America," and the host of several shows on the Food Network during its first decade. She is the author of several cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101,” released in March 2016.

Charlotte Myer, Fresh Direct
Charlotte Myer is the Senior Associate Merchandiser for FoodKick, an on-demand delivery service launched in early 2016 by FreshDirect. A graduate of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, she has an abiding passion for specialty foods and for supporting the artisans who make them.

Louisa Neumann, Specialty Food Consultant
Louisa Neumann is a specialty food consultant scouting emerging specialty food producers in Portland, Oregon. Louisa is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France, has cooked in fine dining restaurants in Boston and France, and has experience developing recipes for cookbooks and magazines.

Fabio Parasecoli, Associate Professor and Director of Food Studies Initiatives, The New School
Parasecoli is author of several books, including “Al Dente: A History of Food in Italy,” released in 2014.

Simona Picco, Head Buyer, Eataly USA
Simona Picco, gastronomist and Head Buyer for Eataly USA, has dedicated her career to food. Alumni from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Simona has had a multi-faceted career in the food world: journalist and editor for the Food Channel at the Swiss National Television, writer for various publications, and, for the past 6 years, Head Buyer for Eataly USA. During her spare time she can be found in Brooklyn drinking coffee, dancing at music venues, growing herbs in her garden, playing frisbee with her dog, and always thinking about the next meal.

Kate Planitzer, Director of Purchasing and Merchandising, Mouth.com
Planitzer is the director of purchasing and merchandising for Mouth Foods, a leading online retailer for independent, American-made food and spirits. She’s responsible for selecting, sourcing and curating Mouth’s product selection, gifts and monthly subscription clubs, working directly with more than 300 independent food and housewares makers. Kate holds a masters in Food Systems from New York University.

David Porat, Owner/Founder, Chelsea Market Baskets
Porat created Chelsea Market Baskets LTD and opened it in 1997 after working on his own as a specialty food wholesaler and working for Bloomingdale's and Macy's. CMB wholesales European specialty foods and has a web mail order business along with an energetic retail location in Chelsea Market in New York.

Dan Rothman, Regional Executive Chef, Northeast Region, Whole Foods Market
After 20 years as chef in assorted roles in the hospitality industry, Rothman has been with Whole Foods Market for 10 years. In his current role, some of his responsibilities include recipe development and menu creation of both food and beverage for tap rooms, restaurants, venues as well as program and recipe development for meat, seafood, produce and specialty departments.

Stan Sagner, Author and Food and Media Strategy Consultant
Stan Sagner is an independent food writer and the former Restaurant Critic and Travel and Culture contributor to the New York Daily News. He most recently served as Head of Visual Content and Strategy for Rodale, Inc. and currently works as an independent food and media strategy consultant. He is a graduate of the ICC Culinary Program and lives in New York City.

Elena Santogade, Buyer, Le District
Elena Santogade has worked as a specialty food buyer at several retail locations in New York City. In 2013 Elena opened Campbell Cheese & Grocery, a neighborhood cheese shop in Brooklyn, and most recently opened Le District, a sprawling food destination in lower Manhattan.

Francine Segan, Food Historian and Author
Francine Segan, food historian and James Beard nominated author of six cookbooks. Francine writes for numerous publications including Saveur, Epicurious, and Rodale's Organic Life. She gives a popular series of lectures for Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC and at the 92nd St YMCA in New York City.

Rob Seixas, Director of Education, International Culinary Center
Rob Seixas is the Director of Education at The International Culinary Center, one of the world’s premier culinary schools. At the ICC, Rob has oversight of all curriculum, course development, professional development for faculty, hiring of adjunct faculty, custom training for clients, editorial content, and various educational initiatives in collaboration with external companies and groups. Before the ICC, Rob worked in educational publishing, and was an editor for Zagat. 

Linda Sikorski, Market Hall Foods/The Pasta Shop
Linda Sikorski heads the buying team at Market Hall Foods/ The Pasta Shop, the San Francisco’s Bay Area’s preeminent specialty food retailer with stores in Oakland and Berkeley, plus the e-commerce site, www.markethallfoods.com. She has served on the Specialty Food Association’s Retailer Network Committee for the past eight years and is a past board member of the California Olive Oil Council.

Jerry James Stone, JerryJamesStone.com
Jerry James Stone is a food writer, recipe developer, and cookbook author. He's best known for his popular vegetarian food blog, jerryjamesstone.com.

Brad Studer, Senior Brand Manager, Corporate Brands Strategy and Innovation, The Kroger Co.
Studer began his career with Kroger as an Associate Brand Manager for HBC and Grocery. In 2009, he was promoted to Brand Manager for Deli/Bakery, and then was promoted to his current role in 2011. Prior to joining the company, Brad spent several years with Newell Rubbermaid as New Business Development Manager and Product Manager.

Tina Ujlaki, Executive Food Editor, Food & Wine
Ujlaki is always excited to try out and discover new, great products no matter how not-hungry she is.





When & How to Enter

The 2016 sofi Awards entries open on March 28. Winners and Finalists will be announced on May 25 and sofi Awards celebrations will take place throughout the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. 


Shelf-Stable Product Entry Samples Accepted


Perishable Product Entry Samples Accepted


2016 Winners & Finalists Announced


Summer Fancy Food Show