New Zealand Food Awards 2022: Judging & Gala Dinner


Calling all food lovers! The New Zealand Food Awards hero some of the best food and beverage items that Kiwi's have to offer. Read on to hear about the judging process and gala dinner, all celebrating the industries crème de la crème.

My favourite household chore is the supermarket shop. Rather than another to-do, the foodie in me floats between aisles, ogling at food products.

I’ll happily analyse a brand’s ingredients, provenance and story (all while risking the frozen veggies defrosting in my snail-paced haste).

With this, I was chuffed to join the New Zealand Food Awards for a second year as a food critic judge, to critically consider some of the most excellent food products Aotearoa has on offer. Dream gig!

Introduction to the NZ Food Awards

Our local food and beverage scene boasts passionate food producers, an incredible calibre of ingredient quality, and oodles of innovation and technical capability – we are very lucky eaters.

The NZ Food Awards, powered by Massey University, are a longstanding (circa 1987!) annual programme of activity that shine a spotlight on products and businesses considered industry pinnacle.

Shoppers can know with certainty that products and businesses displaying the quintessential NZ Food Awards Quality Mark are synonymous with food and beverage innovation, sustainability and excellence.

As an individual both personally interested and professionally invested in food, I’m an avid follower of the annual awards, always appreciating the robust and rigorous judging procedure.

In a nutshell – if you spot a NZFA Quality Mark on packaging in the wild, know the product would be a darn good addition to your supermarket trolley!

The Judging Process

The judging panel covers eight specialities representing a cross-section of industry disciplines, including technical judges, culinary critics, sustainability and commercial experts and more. Products also get a regulatory compliance and packaging check by the Ministry for Primary Industries, to make sure what they state is fair and true. Together this ensures an integrated perspective, with a head judge overviewing and collating it all.

As a food critic judge, product quality, taste, texture and presentation were top of mind. However, I also brought a nutritional-focused lens to the panel, looking at how products might meet shoppers dietary wants and needs.

Behind the Scenes on Judging Day

Judging day for the food critic team was at Massey University in Auckland. The universities involvement stems from the leading role it plays from being at the forefront of local and global food-related education and research. As a Massey alumni (class of 2015, yo🤙), it was neat to head back to the old stomping ground!

We systemically went through tastings of four key categories – pantry, beverage, chilled and frozen – equating to 146 products. You better believe breakfast doesn’t get a shoo-in the morning of.

Each product sample kicked off with a blind taste test, scoring on excellence. No actual blindfolds were present (imagine!), this just means tasting without visuals on the brand. A deep dive into product information followed, scoring on innovation and sustainability.

While personal scores and comments were penned privately, robust group discussions surrounded this.


Across the breadth of entries, a few trends popped out:

  • Many products were free-from foods. These cater to dietary intolerances, allergies or preferences, like dairy-free, gluten-free, low-carb or vegan.
  • Here, excellence and innovation shone. Free-from products don’t always get the best rap in the taste department. When you start subbing cornerstone ingredients, it can be hard to nail a similar taste and consistency. However, many not only tasted like the real deal but better.
  • Sustainability was also a big focus. Many want to know about the environmental footprint of their food, from ingredient sourcing to packaging, and use this as a contributing factor as to whether or not to support a brand.
  • Finally, from the pantry to the chillier, many products celebrated NZ native plants in exciting and creative ways.

Behind the scenes food prep by Massey University students.

The Gala Dinner

The NZFA Gala Dinner is an opportunity to acknowledge the amazing work of the finalists and announce the 2022 winners. COVID-19 saw 2021’s event go virtual, so it was incredible to come together face-to-face to celebrate this year’s best of the best.

When you consider the journey of product development, from conception to market, the gala dinner is a truly special moment for finalists to reflect on their hard efforts, alongside members of Aotearoa’s food and beverage industry.

The evening included incredible fine dining (the NZFA knows good food), great entertainment and terrific company. The event was buzzing!

The Supreme Winner is…

A big congratulations to artisan paddock-to-plate free-range pork company Poaka, who took away three awards for its Whole Chorizo salami product, including Supreme Winner, and both the Primary Sector and Cuisine Artisan Awards – wow!

Poaka has a beautiful approach to animal care, which means better animal welfare and a better end product. The pigs roam on lush grassy pastures and thrive living completely outdoors year-round – very happy piggies indeed.

I learnt that what the pigs eat influences meat characteristics. Their herds forage on a diverse range of pasture in beautiful Canterbury, and are finished on a diet of acorns and sweet chestnuts. This all leads to superior flavour, juiciness and tenderness. The old saying you are what you eat really applies to pigs.

Poaka only uses the best traditional methods when crafting their meats, alongside time and care, resulting in intense and powerful flavours. You can really taste the difference in their hand-crafted chorizo.

Thanks for reading! If you’re out shopping and spot a NZFA winner, consider supporting them, knowing it’s a stellar product💛 Your tastebuds won’t regret it.

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