Behind the Scenes: SIAL Innovation Contest

SIAL innovation

Curious about what goes on during the SIAL Innovation judging? As a member of the Canadian jury, I have some inside tips for food brands.

SIAL Innovation Canada is an international competition open to all exhibitors at the annual trade show.

Why enter the competition?

Exposure. Exposure. Exposure. Even if you don’t win the grand prize. And the entry fee is very reasonable.

What are the chances of winning?

This contest is not dominated by big brands, so smaller businesses and even start-ups have a chance to win.

Tips for entering

When completing the application, build a strong case for why your product is innovative. Know how it compares to competitors in the market. What are your big differentiators? A new flavour is not enough. The best innovation solves a consumer problem and satisfies an unmet need. If it’s made using a proprietary process, explain it.

It may be groundbreaking innovation but if consumers (and the judges) don’t understand it or have a need for it, they will not buy into it.

Submitting product samples is crucial. Ideally, the packaging is labelled for the Canadian market with English and French (the jury is bilingual). And make sure samples arrive on time and in good condition.

Investing in professional product shots is worth the cost, to present the product in the best light.

Who is on the jury?

A well-rounded group of food experts represents industry and academia: food scientists, chefs, marketers, nutritionists, packagers, regulatory experts, researchers, retailers, government and media.

Taste is subjective so what are they judging?

The competition has four main criteria: packaging, manufacturing process, merchandising and recipe.

This year twenty-five short-listed products were reviewed, selected from 117 international entries. We tasted, read labels, tested packaging features and discussed the following questions:

  • Is the innovation obvious? Are there similar products in the market already?
  • Are special packaging features functional? Is it over-packaged? Is packaging recyclable or reusable?
  • What is the market positioning? To whom is it targeted? Is the message clear?
  • Does the product align with current or emerging trends?
  • Is it convenient, easy to use and prepare?
  • Does it fulfill an unmet consumer need?
  • Are the ingredients and claims compliant with Health Canada regulations?
  • Is there a consensus on sensory characteristics and taste?
  • Are Canadian consumers likely to buy it?

Ten finalists were announced, with gold, silver and bronze prizes awarded to the top three innovations. Products were promoted to buyers in Canadian trade magazines like Canadian Grocer,  Grocery Business and Food in Canada.

If you are investing time and money to exhibit your innovative products at SIAL, why not enter the competition? You have nothing to lose and may come out on top. Hope to see you next year!

As a packaged foods consultant, Birgit Blain helps food brands prepare their products for market – from strategy to finished packaging. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands, managing a President’s Choice® portfolio. Contact her at or learn more at

© Birgit Blain

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