New Zealand Food Awards: Behind the Scenes at Judging & 2021 Finalists


(Last updated 09/24/21)

Calling all foodies! The New Zealand Food Awards hero some of the best food and beverage items that Kiwis have to offer. I had the pleasure of being a food critic judge this year and are delighted to share a behind the scenes peak into judging.

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 brands ingredients, provenance and story (all while risking the frozen veggies defrosting in my snail-paced haste).

With this, I was chuffed to be invited to join the 2021 New Zealand Food Awards as a food critic judge, to critically consider some of the most excellent food products Aotearoa has to offer right now. Dream gig!

Introduction to the New Zealand Food Awards

The New Zealand food and beverage scene boasts passionate food producers, an incredible calibre of ingredient quality, and oodles of innovation and technical capability – we’re very lucky eaters.

As a shopper, it can be challenging to navigate the world of food and beverage products. The NZ Food Awards, powered by Massey University, are a longstanding annual programme of activity (running since 1987!), established to shine a spotlight on products and businesses considered at industry pinnacle.

Buyers can know with certainty that products and businesses displaying a finalist or winner NZ Food Awards quality mark (pictured below), on their packaging or marketing material, are synonymous with food and beverage innovation, sustainability and excellence.

The Judging Process

As a nutritionist and food-lover, I keenly follow the NZ Food Awards winners each year, always appreciating the robust and rigorous judging procedure.

From technical judges and culinary critics to scientific and commercial experts, eight sets of specialist judges are picked to represent a cross-section of disciplines within the industry. This ensures a considered and deep dive into products and businesses, with a head judge overviewing and collating it all.

Products also get a regulatory compliance and packaging check by the Ministry for Primary Industries to make sure what they’re stating is fair and true.

As a food critic judge, elements of quality, taste, texture and presentation of products were key contemplations for me. But, I also brought a nutritional-focused lens to the panel this year, looking at how products might meet consumer’s dietary wants and needs.

Behind the scenes food prep by Massey University students.

Behind the Scenes on Judging Day

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

Upon arrival, I had a meet-and-greet with the Head Judge and two other food critic judges, followed by a game plan discussion of the programme ahead. We systemically then went through tastings of four key categories – pantry, beverage, chilled and frozen – equating to over 170 products!

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

While our final personal scores and comments were penned privately, robust group discussions surrounded this. If the other food critic judges had nutritional queries, I’d share expertise here.

After a full day, and (very) full stomach, I left with plenty of admiration and appreciation for our Kiwi food producers and the unique products they’re bringing to our plates.

Sampling beverages. You could always go back for seconds or more!


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

  • Firstly, many products were free-from foods. These are products that cater to dietary intolerances, allergies or preferences, like dairy-free, gluten-free, keto or vegan.
  • Here, excellence and innovation shone – free from products don’t always get the best rap in the taste department. It can be hard to nail a similar taste and consistency when you start subbing cornerstone ingredients. However, many not only tasted like the real deal but better.
  • Sustainability was also a big focus. Consumers want to know more about the environmental footprint of their products, across product conception to packaging, using this as a contributing factor as to whether or not they want to support a brand.
  • Finally, from the pantry to the chillier, many products also celebrated NZ native plants in exciting and creative ways.

As a food critic judge smell, visuals and mouthfeel – as a part of the overall sensory experience of eating – were all important to think about when scoring.

Looking Ahead…

The next exciting phase of the awards is today’s announcement of the finalists. Here, the product and companies that met the most criteria will be further considered before the winners and supreme winner are announced, this year on October 14th.

To check out the list of finalists, head to the 2021 finalist announcement on the NZ Food Awards website. Congratulations to those who feature!

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed insight into the NZFA and behind the scenes of judging! Stay tuned for a follow up blog on the winners, come October 2021.

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