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Uncle Bunk’s receives food industry ‘Oscar’

By Staff | Jul 27, 2011

The Youngs with their newly awarded Sofi for Uncle Bunk's hot mustard relish.

“Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” Uncle Bunk’s Condiments with a Kick, the locally produced line of condiments created from treasured family recipes, is certainly operating on those principles.

The family owned company’s dedication to quality has garnered many accolades for their products. Most recently, they traveled to Washington, D. C., to accept their latest honor at the 39th Annual Sofi Awards ceremony.

“It was awesome!” says Stacey Young Kasun, Co-Owner / Director of Business Operations of Uncle Bunk’s LLC, speaking of the recent trip to the NASFT (National Association for the Specialty Food Trade) Summer Fancy Food Show and awards ceremony.

Uncle Bunk’s Condiments with a Kick entered their award winning product “Mustard Relish – Hot” as a contender for the 2011 sofi gold medal, the highest honor in the specialty food industry. In May the company received the exciting news they had been selected as a Silver Medal Finalist.

“The sofi is the “Oscar” of the food industry,” explained Stacy Young-Kasun last spring.”I was literally jumping up and down when we got the news! It’s the first time a West Virginia food product has made it this far in the competition.”

The sofis, formerly known as the NASFT Product Awards, have honored the most outstanding specialty foods since 1972 – “sofi” stands for “specialty outstanding food innovation” and represents the best of the best.

NASFT has more than 2,900+ members, including manufacturers, importers and allied professions in the U.S. and abroad. The 2011 sofi competition had a record 2,326 entries across 33 awards categories – everything from Outstanding New Products to Outstanding Classic.

Uncle Bunk’s, who entered their specialty product in the Condiment category, was one of five companies in their field chosen as a contender for the gold medal award.

“Uncle Bunk’s produces some of the most awarded products in the State of West Virginia,” Stacey said. But, “winning the silver medal sofi,” she added, “changes everything.”

“The event is huge,” says Rose Marie Young, Stacey’s mother, who, along with daughter Stacey and husband Larry “Uncle Bunk” Young, comprise the founders of the company.

Larry Young uses recipes and canning techniques learned from his mother and grandmother to create the award winning line of condiments Uncle Bunk’s produces. The 14 Day Sweet Pickles, mustard relishes and pepper sauces made in Tyler County are currently sold in 70 stores – up from 60 stores, prior to this event.

“We met several distributors at the show who are very interested in our product line,” said Stacey. “We also spoke to several manufacturing representatives. We’re presently close to signing a contract with a company in Texas.”

The Youngs arrived in the nation’s capital for the award ceremony/trade show July 9 and set up their display early Saturday morning. The rest of the day was spent in meetings with distributors and retailers, pitching their products. “We had ten minutes to pitch our product (to individual retailer/distributors),” says Stacey. “We now have one new store already purchasing our products, and have three distributors who want to work with us, as a result of these networking opportunities.”

“We’re in the process of picking which distributors to work with,” added Stacey. “As we continue to get new business, we’ll look at expanding our company.”

“We could easily be in 200 stores by November,” she continues. “At that point, we will relocate to a bigger facility. We’re looking into having a retail area in the new location as well, and offering tours of our production site as well. Our plan is to be in a larger location by spring.”

The Young family, who are adamant about keeping Uncle Bunk’s in Tyler County, are excited about creating employment opportunities in the area.

“We want to keep our business growing here, in Tyler County,” Rose Marie explained. “With a larger facility in the coming year, we can offer more employment opportunities to the area. It’s great to help generate positive benefits to the local economy. That’s what ‘community’ means, to us. We’re determined to stay and grow here.”

While in Washington, the Youngs made the most of their visit, speaking with other small business owners, sharing ideas and concerns common in their operations.

“Talking to other producers, who are at our level, or who have expanded, was so beneficial,” said Stacey. “We have so much in common. It was very nice to network with people who do what we do.”

“Everyone’s display area’s were beautiful, and their products were amazing,” she added. “We got a lot of positive feedback, which is so helpful.”

“We were considering re-designing our labels, for example,” she said. “But we had people from professional marketing agencies complimenting us on our design. That was very validating! So we made the decision not to re-design.”

“It was disappointing not to win the gold medal,” says Rose Marie, “but it was amazing to be there. The nicest thing was, our products were very popular. People searched us out, at our display. That was very flattering.”

Over 80 countries worldwide and several states were represented at the Fancy Food Show.

“You could walk from booth to booth, and try every kind of food imaginable,” said Rose Marie. “The event was so big, you could never get to all the displays in a day’s time.”

“It was a very successful trip,” adds Stacey. “We had a lot of interest from distributors and retailers.”

Rose Marie said some of the highlights of her weekend at the Fancy Food Show included speaking with representatives of Oprah Magazine, and Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural/organic food stores.

Larry “Uncle Bunk” Young, who is not usually in attendance at events of this kind, says he went to the Fancy Food Show for two reasons.

“One, people always ask if there is really an Uncle Bunk,” he explains with a smile. “Two, I went to get my sofi award!”

Rose Marie and Larry Young walked the red carpet Monday evening, July 12, and were seated with the other silver medal finalists at the ceremony, which was hosted by celebrity chef Cat Cora.

“I sat in the audience,” laughed Stacey. “But it was so exciting just to be there. When they announced all the finalists, our products were displayed on huge screens. It was very cool.”

As an added bonus to their success, Uncle Bunk’s products were selected to be on the Today Show on NBC. The segment aired Tuesday.

Uncle Bunk’s award winning Mustard Relish – Hot will also be added to the Periodic Table of Mustards (element sign, UB), at the National Museum of Mustards in Middleton, Wisconsin.

The Young family is thrilled and proud of their products growing popularity, and plan to enter the award competition again, next year.

“We hope to be in the running for the gold next year,” said Rose Marie with a smile. “We had a wonderful time, and it was an amazing experience for us.”

“We want to say thank you to the West Virginia Dept. of Agriculture,” Stacey, Rose Marie and “Uncle Bunk” added. “They were so supportive of all the West Virginia businesses who attended the show (six companies in all). They provided financial assistance, and even helped us unload and set up.” Funding aid for the trip was secured through a Specialty Crop Grant through the WV Agricultural Department.

“We are so appreciative from the support we’ve received from our state,” said Stacey.