Whether it’s a specialty sweet treat, small-batch pork sausage or pimento cheese made from Grandma’s secret recipe, the University of Georgia’s Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest shines the spotlight on the state’s craft food scene.The contest, in its second decade, serves as a springboard for food entrepreneurs, assisting them in testing new products and reaching a larger audience, and helps new craft brands break into new markets and expand sales.Registration for the 2017 Flavor of Georgia contest, which is conducted each year by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, is now open at http://flavorofga.com/.Over the years, more than 1,100 food products have been entered in the contest. Today, many of those products are sold in national and regional supermarkets. Others have increased their wholesale distribution or internet sales, or experienced better traffic at local farmers markets.”Flavor of Georgia participants tell us that the contest provides recognition, credibility and exposure for their products,” said Sharon P. Kane, a UGA food business development specialist and the contest’s coordinator. “It also provides a valuable resource for networking with other food entrepreneurs and industry experts.”Nearly a dozen of the 2016 finalists had new business contracts within two weeks of the 2016 competition, and 85 percent of the finalists reported increased sales. Additionally, 92 percent of the finalists reported that they made new business connections because of the contest. “Customers’ eyes light up when they find out that our product won the grand prize,” said Amanda Wilbanks, owner of Gainesville, Georgia’s Southern Baked Pie Company, 2016 Flavor of Georgia grand prize winner. “We’ve made many great food industry contacts by participating, and the contest is a great conversation starter when we’re promoting our product.” Finalists and winners participate in a number of high-profile industry showcases throughout the year following each annual contest, including the Georgia Grown Symposium, the Georgia National Fair and showcase days at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. They also receive industry feedback and use of the Flavor of Georgia logo for their products’ packaging and promotional materials.Product categories for the 2017 contest include barbecue sauces, beverages, condiments and salsas, confections, dairy products, dairy-alternative products, honey, jams and jellies, meats and seafood, meat-alternative products, sauces and seasonings, snack foods, and miscellaneous products. There is no limit to the number of products an individual business can submit.Judges evaluate each product based on flavor, texture and market innovation. Consumer appeal and product representation of Georgia are also considered.Registration closes Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, but contestants can enter at an early discounted rate before Thursday, Jan. 15, 2017. Contest finalists will participate in the final round of judging and a public tasting Tuesday, March 21, 2017, as part of the governor’s statewide Agricultural Awareness Week.For more information or to register, visit http://flavorofga.com or call 706-583-0347. Follow the contest @FlavorofGA on Twitter and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/flavorofga.