Two Summit County women have won a contest for food they hope to mass produce — a pancake/waffle mix and a fermented tea.
The women will get a lot of help aimed at getting their food product ideas onto grocery store shelves as winners of the Northeast Ohio Food Contest, sponsored by the Center for Innovative Food Technology.
The winners, announced Thursday, are Sally Ohle, owner of Summit Croissants — which she runs out of her Akron home — and Debbie Sablack, a Twinsburg resident who once worked as a product manager at coffee and food company J.M. Smucker Co. in Orrville.
Ohle, known as the Croissant Lady at the farmers markets where she sells her croissants, impressed the judges with her multi-grain pancake/waffle dry mix. Ohle said she added the mix — sold in small bags — to her farmers market offerings about five years ago.
Sablack won with her recipe for kombucha — the trendy beverage made with sweetened tea and a culture of yeasts and bacteria.
Ohle is excited about the possibility of selling her product on a larger scale: “I’ve had this recipe [for the mix] for probably about five years. I’ve been selling the mix at the farmers markets for about that long. ... It was just something that I [initially] was using for myself.”
This year, the nonprofit Center for Innovative Food Technology, with main offices in Toledo, teamed up with the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen for the contest. This Cleveland venture is a food-product incubator.
The women’s products were among roughly 40 to 50 entries. Contestants submitted forms that included their recipes and outlined how they would like to bring their products to market, said Jim Konecny, spokesman for the Center for Innovative Food Technology, which has its main offices in Toledo.
Konecny said each winner’s prize is a wealth of free technical assistance aimed at successfully marketing the products, including shelf life testing, nutritional analysis, UPC coding, packaging and pricing. The goal is to get new Ohio food product ideas from home kitchens to store shelves.
Both Ohle and Sablack said a big plus of winning the contest is use of the facilities at the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen to make large batches of their products for sampling.
Ohle also wants to work on developing a frozen multi-grain waffle. “I want to explore that avenue with them [the food technology center.]”
Ohle also is excited about getting help on packaging. The mix she sells at the farmers markets, she said, “basically, is in a plastic bag ... I’m terrible with packaging.”
So far, Sablack has not sold her kombucha. Rather, she has given it way as gifts to friends, who suggested she try commercializing it.
Already, however, she has created packaging and is making calls on retailers.
Like a lot of kombucha drinkers, Sablack is convinced the beverage has health benefits, though critics point out no studies support various claims.
“This is the next best thing in health and wellness,” Sablack said.
Sablack notes kombucha contains “a host of things people take supplements for. This is a way to get the supplements naturally.”
Her kombucha, she said, seeks to be more appetizing to the mainstream palate than many commercially available “earthy tasting” kombuchas. Her flavors are green tea, lemonade and cherry limeade.
Earlier this spring, a panel of judges selected Ohle and Sablack as winners from a group of finalists chosen by a representative of the food technology center.
Each year, the center’s Food Contest focuses on a different area of the state. The last time Northeast Ohioans were eligible to enter was in 2011.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.