Contest winners’ products reaching broader audience

Sarah Steinbrunner isn’t a mom, but the 21-year-old Ohio State University senior is well aware that, for many children, the traditional lunch staple of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich isn’t an option. Too many kids these days have peanut allergies, some so serious that peanut products aren’t allowed anywhere near them.

Accepting the Signature Food Contest award for Beannut Butter in 2018 were, from left, Collin Crooks, a sophomore at Ohio State University and Banzo Foods bookkeeper; Taylor Crooks, company CEO and 2018 Ohio University graduate and Sarah Steinbrunner, a senior at OSU and the company’s Chief Science Officer. With them is Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Adam Sharp.

So she and her boyfriend, Taylor Crooks, 22, decided to develop a “butter” that tastes like peanuts but contains no nuts at all.

Their Beannut Butter (which is being rebranded with the name Yippea) was one of two products that judges picked in July as the 2018 winners of the Ohio Signature Food Contest, a statewide competition held annually by the Center for Innovative Food Technology and sponsored by Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Last year’s contest, which showcases innovative products, drew 75 entries. A panel of judges scored each product on its viability, commercialization potential and overall marketplace appeal, as well as the entrant’s business strategy.

Also rising to the top was Sweet and Spicy Maple BBQ Sauce, the brainchild of former Bissell Maple Farm employee Tanya Kidd, who created a sauce that’s a blend of maple syrup, tomato paste and a bit of cayenne pepper.

“There’s a million barbecue sauces out there,” said Nate Bissell, 39, owner of the farm in Jefferson in Ashtabula County. “But this is maple based and that’s what makes it unique.”

Bissell has been making the sauce for eight years and selling it mostly out of the farm’s storefront. Its main ingredient comes from sugar water that’s left after maple syrup has been made. The sugar rinse water, which is about 3 to 5 percent maple sugar, is boiled down into maple syrup for the sauce. Last year, that resulted in 400 gallons of Sweet and Spicy sauce.

“Basically we recycle that rinse water instead of putting it down the drain,” Bissell said. He said employees also steam-clean stainless steel drums that other farmers use for making maple syrup, and that rinse water also is boiled down and used for the sauce.

“I have all the equipment to bottle it and we already had it analyzed,” he said. “But we need to find someone to help us package it, someone to partner with. I’m hoping that winning this contest will help us find a co-packer who could make it. We’re hoping the additional advice and guidance we get will help us move to the next step.”

Steinbrunner and Crooks were in a different place when they won the contest; they were just starting their business, Banzo Foods, to sell the bean butter spread that Steinbrunner had created after much trial and error in the kitchen of her OSU-area apartment. As a food-science major she’d help develop an allergy-free cookie out of garbanzo beans with a group of other OSU students during her junior year. The effort brought out an entrepreneurial streak she hadn’t known she’d had and she decided to make an allergy-free spread.

“There was a bigger market for a spread because there’s a huge gap in the marketplace for something that’s nut free,” Steinbrunner said. “We really want to market it as something that’s safe for people to eat. It’s never going to taste exactly like peanut butter, but it’s a lot closer to the taste than other alternatives.”

Besides their original product, Steinbrunner and Crooks have developed two additional flavors — chocolate and spice cookie — and have sold the product at a farmer’s market, a specialty store and on Amazon. They’re negotiating to sell their butters in a national grocery chain and their goal is to eventually find investors and mass market the product.

In the meantime, they’ve entered the product into national competitions at several universities and have received plenty of business advice, as well as certifications for their creation through the Signature Food Contest.

“They got us ready to go in to talk to retailers and not be embarrassed,” said Crooks, a 2018 Ohio University graduate and Banzo Foods CEO.

About CIFT Signature Food Contest in 2019

  • The deadline to enter this year’s Signature Food Contest is May 31. Applicants must have an interest in commercializing the product, provide product samples and discuss market opportunities and business plans.
  • Contest winners receive the support from CIFT, which includes testing products for shelf stability, advice on labeling, business planning, product development, regulations and batch-product preparations and the use of a commercially licensed kitchen in Bowling Green.
  • Products do not have to be fully designed or ready for market. An application and additional information about the contest is available online.

At left: Nate Bissell’s Sweet and Spicy maple sugar infused barbecue sauce was one of two winners of 2018’s Center for Innovative Food Technology Signature Food Contest.

Photos by Peggy Turbett

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One comment

  1. Tried Bennut butter couple of times, it was amazing!

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