New York Concord Grape Innovation Award Winners Announced

Six food and beverage producers from across New York won more than $100,000 in cash prizes and packages of support from Cornell experts

Geneva, N.Y. – Stil-Bène, Inc., of Geneva, and Westfield Maid Cooperative, of Portland, were the grand prize winners of the first New York Concord Grape Innovation Awards, a business competition aimed at stimulating innovation and development of new products and markets for one of New York’s largest and most historic grape industries.

The prizes were awarded Friday, December 9, at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, where 12 finalists from across the state met to pitch their products before a panel of judges. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets funded the competition, which was hosted and organized by the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech.

The finalists are split into two categories: Best New Concord Grape Beverage and Best New Concord Grape-Based Product.

Westfield Maid Cooperative, one of the largest and oldest marketing cooperatives based in the Lake Erie grape growing region, won the top prize in the best new beverage category for its “Good n’ Grapey” Concord grape juice pouches, aimed at supplying school cafeterias.

Westfield Maid, the state’s first New York State Grown & Certified juice processor, was part of New York’s “Grape-to-School” pilot program in 2019 that aimed to bring New York-grown Concord grape juice to select school districts across the state.

The new pouches are a continuation of that effort. Unlike the previous foil-topped plastic juice cups, which are often frozen for long-term storage, the pouches are shelf-stable with colorful branding and innovative packaging designed to encourage more kids to drink Concord grape juice.

Stil-Bène, Inc. was formed by the founders of Siena Development Group, a Geneva-based food and beverage product development company, and Elad Tako, associate professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University (CALS) and a leading researcher into the health benefits of grape pomace.

Their winning product is Stil-Bène, a powdered dietary supplement designed to improve digestive health that is made from grape pomace – the skins and seeds left over after pressing grapes.

The products were judged on five criteria: market readiness, innovative approach, economic impact on the Concord grape industry, potential for expanded utilization of Concord grapes and percentage of Concord grape in the product.

Grand prize winners of each category were awarded a $20,000 cash prize, along with a package of expert support from Cornell University valued at $8,000. Second-place winners in each category won a $10,000 cash prize, along with a package of expert support from Cornell University valued at $5,000. Third-place winners were awarded a $5,000 cash prize and a package of expert support from Cornell University valued at $3,500.

In addition to the prize packages, winning products will also be featured at the nearly 70 Taste NY markets and 10 welcome centers across the state.

The Best New Concord Grape-Based Product winners:

The Best New Concord Grape Beverage winners:

The idea for the competition grew from the 2018 New York State Concord Grape Summit, held at the Grape Discovery Center in Chautauqua County. The summit was held to bolster the Concord grape industry, which had suffered from low prices and consumer demand, labor shortages and increasing production costs in recent years.

The Lake Erie region of New York and Pennsylvania is home to over 32,000 acres of vineyard, of which nearly 98% is planted to Concord – making it the largest grape growing region in the U.S. outside of California, and the largest Concord growing region in the world.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball: “At New York State’s Concord Grape Summit a few years ago, we set a goal to increase grape marketing and promotion for Concord grapes, and to prioritize research and product development across New York’s grape industry. It’s exciting to see these Concord Grape Innovation Awards make good on that pledge. Concord grapes are a critical part of New York’s agricultural economy, and with some exciting, innovative products and producers taking home the top prizes at this competition, I know that the best is yet to come. I look forward to seeing these products displayed in stores across our state, and send my sincere congratulations to all the awardees.”

Olga Padilla-Zakour, Interim Director of Cornell AgriTech, Director of the Cornell Food Venture Center and competition judge: “We were so pleased to host the Concord Grape Innovation Award competition funded by NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. The synergies of academia, state government and businesses working together spark innovative solutions to ensure the viability of agricultural systems, and in this case, of the Concord grape industry.”

Catharine Young, Executive Director of the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech, former New York State Senator and competition judge: “When you get local and state stakeholders in the room to identify solutions, it bears fruit and yields positive results. It has been gratifying to develop policy as a former state lawmaker that sprang from the 2018 Summit when growers, processors, agribusiness experts, economic developers, and local and state officials gathered in Chautauqua County to find ways to boost the Concord grape industry. Now that policy has been put into action through the Concord grape innovation business competition, and it has been special to take a leading role through Cornell to ensure the event’s success.

New discoveries related to food are spurring economic growth and vitality, and the outcome of the competition will fulfill the promise from 2018 to make the Concord grape industry stronger. The winners will be supplying the amazing antioxidant and immune system benefits of grape juice to school children, upcycling food waste from grape pomace into dietary supplements that improve people’s gut health and introducing novel food and beverage products into the marketplace for consumers’ enjoyment.

The lasting impact not only will grow the agribusiness industry, but it also will have positive effects on countless people’s lives.”

Michael Nozzolio, former New York State Senator and competition judge: “It was exciting to review many innovative, tasty and highly nutritious products developed by the finalists for the New York Concord Grape Innovation Award. The keen competition made determining the winners very challenging, and this highlights a very bright future for New York’s Concord Grape industry.”

Sam Filler, Executive Director, New York Wine & Grape Foundation, and competition judge: “Concord grapes are part of New York’s agriculture heritage and remain a vital part of the State’s grape industry. This competition presented an opportunity to explore innovative uses of Concord that will hopefully lead to the development of new markets. The future of Concord grapes is bright, especially as some of the new products developed for the competition highlighted many of its beneficial health properties that more and more consumers are seeking.”

Andy Putnam, Director of Sales and Strategy, Westfield Maid Cooperative: “Westfield Maid Cooperative, Inc. is very pleased with our first-place award in the new beverage category during last Friday’s New York Concord Innovation Award competition at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, N.Y. We thank NYS Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball, the event judges, and event coordinators for making this competition possible as a follow up to the 2018 Concord Grape Summit.

The associated prize money and free consulting services will propel us toward rapid launch of our new Concord grape beverage product for NYS farm to school markets. We see our innovative new product as a strategic opportunity to reintroduce New York State school children to the authentic taste profile, aromas, and health benefits afforded by high-quality, 100% Concord grape juice, and to sustain the viability of local Concord grape farms within the beautiful Lake Erie Concord grape belt region.

We applaud New York State and Cornell AgriTech for rewarding and encouraging market innovation and helping us to pursue significant upside potential within farm to school markets. The learning and acceleration benefits we’ve already experienced through our participation in this award competition have been immense and we are very grateful for them.”

Elad Tako, Co-Founder, Stil-Bène, Inc.: “The award will greatly accelerate moving our new product from final development to market entrance and distribution. State investment in product innovation is the most direct line to supporting industry growth and economic impact. We appreciate the recognition of value we bring to the industry by turning a costly waste product into a nutritional supplement for gut health – something in demand by today’s consumers. State support for our new product creates demand for pomace that, in turn, creates value to the New York Concord grape industry.”

About the COE:

The Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech works to grow the food and agriculture industries in New York by connecting food and agriculture businesses and entrepreneurs with what they need to succeed. The COE provides mentorship, access to world-class Cornell research and experts and other resources to foster the growth of new companies, new products, and existing businesses.

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Jacob Pucci

Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech