Entries are judged strictly on a blind basis—without packaging, pricing, or any brand identification. SFA has partnered with Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, NJ for judging and logistics management, bringing additional depth in food industry expertise to the competition. PLEASE NOTE PRODUCT FEEDBACK IS NOT PROVIDED AT THE END OF THE AWARDS.
Seasoned food professionals from RFIC serve as judges in addition to specialty food buyers.
Previous judges have come from Kroger, Whole Foods Market, The Fresh Market, Eataly, FreshDirect, Kings Food Markets, Williams-Sonoma, Union Square Hospitality Group, UNFI, DPI Specialty Foods, and more..
TASTING & EVALUATION
A team of professional chefs will prepare the products exactly according to the producer’s instructions and present 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
A team of RFIC judges work independently in blind-tasting sessions to evaluate each product based on a set of judging criteria. Each judge marks a score for each criteria (on a scale of 1 to 5) and the percentages for the criteria are automatically applied. The final score for an entry is the average of all the judges’ scores for that product resulting in a score between 1.00 and 5.00 points.
All products competiting for the sofi Gold Award in each category are judged on:
Based on 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?
20% 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?
Innovation is defined as:
- Unexpected culinary experience in taste profile, flavor combination, use of ingredients, OR a new twist or spin on a classic
- Creativity in the product recipe/formulation or manufacturing process that makes the product healthier and/or sustainable
- On trend with changing consumer preference and evolving industry trends
SELECTION OF SOFI GOLD WINNERS
Every product receives a score between 1.00 and 5.00 points. Within each category, the top five scorers will undergo a final round of judging based on the same criteria by a team of specialty food buyers. The top scorer in each category will receive the Gold award.
- No ties: The potential winners will be determined by the highest score on the Taste criterion. The judges’ decisions are final and binding.
- Minimum of 3.50 points to win.
SELECTION OF PRODUCT OF THE YEAR - FOOD, PRODUCT OF THE YEAR - BEVERAGE, OUTSTANDING NEW PRODUCT AND OUTSTANDING CLASSIC
- The five Gold winners with the highest scores across all food categories will be finalists for the Product of the Year - Food award.
- The five Gold winners with the highest scores across all beverage categories will be the finalists for the Product of the Year - Beverage award
- The five top-scoring products across all entries that were introduced in the past year (February 28, 2023 – February 1, 2024) will be the finalists for Outstanding New Product award
- The five top-scoring products across all entries that were introduced at least five years ago (January 1, 2019) will be the finalists for the Outstanding Classic award
All finalists in the above four categories will be tasted on site at the Summer Fancy Food Show by buyer attendees.
If you are one of the finalists in these categories, you will be notified by May 10, 2024. Each registered buyer judge will select their top choice in each of the four categories. The products with the most votes in each category will be named the winners.
SELECTION OF OUTSTANDING PACKAGING DESIGN AWARD
Any sofi entry may opt to also be considered for the Outstanding Packaging Design Award. Entering company must supply 1 packaged, jarred, boxed product that will be used only for this category. Products will be judged by buyers/packaging design experts on:
FUNCTIONAL DESIGN AND USABILITY
- Practicality, User-Friendly Features, and Innovation.
BRAND COMMUNICATION AND INFORMATION
- Clarity and Visibility, Brand Identity, and Visual Impact.
The winner will be announced at the Summer Fancy Food Show.
"As a judge,I'm looking for great flavors, pleasing textures, and quality ingredients. As a journalist, I think the best stories grow organically (pardon the pun) out of the pursuit of those attributes. Poignant personal tales can make for good editorial hooks, and I'm not immune to their charms.
But in the end it comes back to these fundamental questions: Is this delicious? Does it replace something I already like or does it innovate?
And why do I need it on my table?"
- Meredith Ochs, Sirius XM Radio, NPR