Concord grape innovation contest offers $100K in prizes

Applications are being accepted through Aug. 1 for the inaugural New York Concord Grape Innovation Award, a first-of-its-kind 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.

Funded by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and organized and hosted by Cornell AgriTech, the competition will award more than $100,000 in cash prizes and packages of support from Cornell experts.

The competition is split into two categories: best new Concord grape beverage and best new Concord grape-based product. Awards, decided by a judging panel of industry, government and academic leaders, will be given to the top three applicants in each category. The proposals will be judged on market readiness, innovative approach, economic impact to the Concord grape industry, potential for expanded utilization of Concord grapes and percentage of Concord grape in the product. Proposed products must contain at least 30% Concord grape.

Finalists for each category will compete in a judging symposium on Dec. 9 at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. In addition to the prize packages, winning products will also be featured at Taste NY welcome centers and markets across the state.

Cornell impacting New York State

“New York’s Concord grape growers are leading our nation in the production of this specialty crop that supports our agricultural community and grape-related businesses across New York state,” said New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball. “I’m proud that the state is able to support the New York Concord Grape Innovation Award competition and look forward to seeing the exciting final products at our Taste NY marketplaces statewide.”

The idea for the competition grew from the 2018 New York State Concord Grape Summit, held at the Grape Discovery Center in Chautauqua County as a means to bolster the industry, which has suffered from low prices and consumer demand, labor shortage and ever-increasing production costs in recent years.

“The Lake Erie Concord Grape Region’s history, heritage and economic vitality are closely tied to Chautauqua County and the state’s identity and success, and it is imperative to strengthen this agricultural sector for generations to come,” said Cathy Young, executive director of the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture and former state senator who participated in the 2018 summit.

Concord grapes make up around 80% of the total tonnage of all grapes grown in the state, with the greatest concentration of production being in the Lake Erie region. Statewide, around 121,000 tons of Concord grapes are grown annually on some 30,000 acres of vineyards.

“Concord vineyards in western New York have a long history of producing healthy and delicious fruit because the variety is so well adapted to the soils and climate in the region,” said Terry Bates, director of the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory.

The competition is open to any established New York business, including food processors, producers and entrepreneurs, that have been in business for at least one year as of Jan. 1, 2022. Semi-finalists will be announced on Aug. 19 and will be invited to submit a full product proposal. In November, finalists for each category will be selected to compete in the judging symposium.

“It is an optimal time to develop more foods and beverages,” Young said. “We look forward to the creativity, innovation and growth opportunities that will result.”

Jacob Pucci is the marketing and communications coordinator for the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech.

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Jeffrey Martin