Anticipated World Dairy Expo Contest Back With New Classes
MADISON, Wis. — On the heels of one of the most challenging years the dairy industry has experienced in decades, the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association (WDPA) is excited to again host its highly anticipated, comprehensive dairy products competition — the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Products Contest.
The contest, now in its 18th year, is the only contest of its kind in North America, since no other national contest includes all dairy products. This means that cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, fluid milk, whipping cream, sour cream and whey processors have a unique opportunity to compete in a prestigious, all-dairy national contest, notes Brad Legreid, executive director, WDPA. The winning companies will be afforded the opportunity to promote and market their products as “the best of the best” in North America.
The contest began in 2003 and at that time had only two classes — one for cheese and one for butter. Following WDPA board approval in 2002 to launch the contest, Legreid approached then-World Dairy Expo General Manager Tom McKittrick.
“We wanted to use the World Dairy Expo name, which already was established,” Legreid notes. “We told them they wouldn’t have to do a thing, but it gives some name recognition to the event. It also helps to promote the expo — so it’s a win-win.”
To sweeten the deal, Legreid also proposed the contest auction be held in conjunction with the expo itself. He notes that for years, World Dairy Expo had been interested in getting more processor attendees out to the event. McKittrick agreed, and the contest and auction have been affiliated with World Dairy Expo since.
When faced with where to hold the contest itself, Legreid says the culinary arts department at Madison Area Technical College (now Madison College) came to mind.
“It just made sense. Why not have the judging there where all these students who are going to be future chefs could be exposed to dairy products and be able to mingle among the judges and hear their comments about these dairy products,” he says. “I thought the more comfortable these students might be with dairy products, the more likely they would be to use them in the future.”
Legreid contacted the culinary arts department and head instructor John Johnson. Like McKittrick, Johnson decided to take a chance on the contest, and the partnership has benefited both parties. This year’s contest will include 93 different dairy product categories. The previous contest, held in 2019, received a record 1,500 entries.
“Last year, we had been planning for the contest because we didn’t know how long COVID would last,” Legreid says. “Judges and volunteers were still on board. We had everything ready to go forward, and we were making adjustments as needed as restrictions shifted.”
Ultimately, the WDPA board and staff decided it was safer and more sensible for everyone to postpone for a year.
“It was a tough decision, but I know it was the right thing,” Legreid says.
He notes that for 2021, WDPA re-contacted all 52 judges the organization planned to use last year. All but three judges decided to come back for the 2021 competition, and WDPA was able to find replacements for those spots.
“We have prided ourselves on having top technical experts serve on our judging panel. Our head judge, Dr. Robert Bradley, has always insisted on having the best judges we can get,” Legreid says. “For those who know him, he is one of the leading experts in the dairy industry throughout North America.
“On top of that, we have excellent assistant head judges — Greg Kinate for cheese, Doug Allen for Grade A, Scott Rankin for ice cream and KJ Burrington for whey,” he adds. “We made sure when we started this contest in 2003 that we developed our own scoring guidelines. Bob Bradley spearheaded that. We feel that our score sheets and the grading process we go through is very solid.”
This year’s contest will be held Aug. 17-19 at the Madison College Culinary School. Non-winning products from the contest are donated to the school for training and education. Winning products will be auctioned off at the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest Auction Sept. 28. The auction is held on the event grounds at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin, in conjunction with World Dairy Expo.
“This contest benefits multiple groups of people, companies and organizations,” Legreid says. “The biggest beneficiaries by far are the companies who win first place. Every year, we receive so many phone calls and emails just profusely thanking us for our contest because the winning companies have parlayed their success into unprecedented PR and marketing opportunities.”
Even the companies that enter the contest and do not win benefit because they receive the score sheets from the judges, he adds.
“We have 52 highly trained technical judges who really are some of the leading experts in their field. Companies can tweak their product formulas for things they were marked down on — so it’s really a form of R&D. For the low price of an entry fee, they can find out how to make their product better. And I know multiple companies who have entered the contest over the years who did not win, but they kept on improving their products until they did.”
WDPA annually funds three scholarships in part from contest auction proceeds: one $2,000 scholarship in honor of Dr. Robert Bradley, one $2,000 WDPA scholarship and a $2,000 donation to fund the Madison College Culinary Arts Program. WDPA also donates $2,500 to the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest. Additionally, WDPA this year will continue donating contest product to various charities, including the River Food Pantry and other charitable groups.
Legreid notes the contest and auction would not be possible without the help of many industry volunteers. “They play such a key role during the judging week,” he says. “They come out there and they unpack the boxes, they put the products on the table for the judges, they put the products back in the boxes and cart them off — it’s a lot of work.”
He also notes two volunteers in particular who have been “invaluable” — Dave Robbins of Dairy Farmers of America Dairy Brands and Dave Koontz of Vivolac Cultures.
“Every year they take personal vacation time when the entries are shipped to the warehouse to put them together and coordinate them. And then they work during judging week,” Legreid says. “I also want to highlight our contest committee, and chairman Tony Anderson. They do a wonderful job.”
Additionally, he gives thanks to the companies who sponsor the contest’s grand champion trophies — including Cheese Market News (cheese and butter), Dairy Foods magazine (Grade A) and Grassland Dairy Products (ice cream).
Legreid notes in this era of competition from non-dairy alternatives, events like the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest help to shine a public spotlight on genuine dairy products. “I think that’s really important,” he says.
“It’s extremely rewarding to see how this contest benefits so many dairy companies throughout North America and other parts of the world,” he adds. “It’s the fastest-growing contest of any related dairy contest in its time, but it’s still relatively new compared to some contests. As companies are exposed to this and learn more about it, I think we will see more entries. I think the future for this contest is extremely bright, and I think it will be a wonderful opportunity for everyone for years to come.”
For more information on the contest or to enter, visit www.wdpa.net/championship-contest.
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Source: Cheese Market News