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Partnership spices up World’s Championship Chili Cookoff

The International Chili Society and National Onion Association turned the heat up this past March following the announcement that the organizations were partnering to promote onions during cookoff events during 2011. The culmination of the partnership took place at the annual World’s Championship Chili Cookoff which took place in Manchester, NH, from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2.

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Sherise Jones, IEOOC’s marketing director. (Photo courtesy of the National Onion Association)

The pairing was a natural as the rarified air of the cookoff was taken in by event attendees. “Onions and chili have a long-standing relationship,” said Carol Hancock, chief executive officer of the International Chili Society. “Almost every bowl of ICS chili contains onion as an ingredient.”

NOA has been the voice of America’s onion industry since 1913. The organization’s membership is comprised of growers, shippers, brokers and commercial representatives of the domestic onion industry.

Kimberly Reddin, National Onion Association’s director of public and industry relations, said the venture was a match made in heaven. “It makes perfect sense to align the NOA with the International Chili Society and the World’s Championship Chili Cookoff,” she stated. “Our mission is to spread the word about onions, and chili is the perfect dish for doing just that.”

According to NOA, Americans eat an average of 20 pounds of onions per capita each year. The versatile vegetable is as close as one can get to being a virtual staple in every American household.

The World’s Championship Chili Cookoff is the culmination of more than 200 global chili cook-offs sanctioned by the International Chili Society. “NOA has been in a yearlong partnership with ICS,” Ms. Reddin told The Produce News on Nov. 1. The full plate of activity during the year gave NOA quite an opportunity to raise awareness about onions and the industry that produces them, she added.

The championship cookoff is widely recognized and well attended. The competition is stiff. “Cooks come from all over the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii,” Ms. Reddin commented, adding that over 400 entrants vied for top honors. “That’s a long way to go for a contest. Those are the real influencers of the group.”

World’s Championship Chili Cookoff cooks must be first-place winners of pre-qualifying ICS sanctioned cookoffs through the year, which benefit charities and nonprofit organizations. During the championship cookoff, entrants compete for $45,000 in cash prizes and awards.

How steamy did things get? This assessment was entered on the ICS Official Chili Blog. “This year in Manchester, NH the World’s Championship Chili Cookoff saw one of the most competitive and hard-fought competitions in recent memory. As the chili pots simmered, all the cooks had their game faces on and brought their best shot at chili glory.”

Although event attendance was somewhat hampered by rain, Ms. Reddin said 14,000 people flocked to the cookoff to titillate their taste buds.

The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee was invited to co-exhibit at NOA’s booth, strategically located at the entrance of the venue, during the cookoff. Sherise Jones, IEOOC’s marketing director, represented the organization. Attendees had an opportunity to talk with Ms. Jones and learn more about the region’s quality product.

Ms. Reddin said a variety of literature was available, and host of activities took place to educate and engage visitors. “We had an onion trivia game,” she stated. Event goers rolled the dice and picked up a card corresponding to the number shown. If they answered the question on the card correctly, visitors snatched up a prize.

“We also gave away onions,” Ms. Reddin continued. “The line that came to our booth was incredible.” NOA easily moved over 300 pounds of top-quality onions purchased from a local foodservice vendor. “The onions represented a cross section of onions grown throughout the United States,” she added.

A special activity was planned with the younger set in mind. “We had an onion decorating contest for kids,” Ms. Reddin stated. A colorful array of paints and embellishments were available to the children, who used their imaginations to personalize their onions.

Although 2011 is already behind competitors and event goers, things are heating up on the horizon for 2012. Next year’s championship cookoff will be held at Magic Island in Charleston, WV, on Oct. 5-7.

Ms. Reddin said this year’s partnership with ICS was a winner. As for future prospects, she confided, “We’re definitely considering doing it again next year.”