Food expo showcases new Valley products

jholland@modbee.comJune 23, 2014 

You can decide for yourself what best captures the flavor of the San Joaquin Valley. The nut-flavored sparkling water from Modesto? The dried fruit from orchards around Hughson? The vodka made from sweet potatoes in Atwater?

They are among the 44 entries in new-product contests at the fourth annual Fresno Food Expo, a July 24 showcase of food and drink from the region. The public already can vote online for the People’s Choice Award. A panel of industry experts will pick from among 10 finalists for the Buyer’s Choice Award.

Varni Bros., which has bottled beverages just off South Ninth Street in Modesto since 1933, entered its Nella Bella line of sparkling waters. They come in Almond Fizz, Chocolate Almond Fizz and Pistachio Creme Fizz flavors.

“All of them are inspired by the agriculture that is based here in the San Joaquin Valley,” President Tony Varni said Monday.

Nella Bella is made with spring water the company has marketed under the Noah’s label since 1992. The new product contains sugar and stevia, but Varni said it is not overly sweet. It is up for the People’s Choice Award in Fresno.

Varni Bros. has bottled 7UP since 1936 and has distributed a wide range of other products over the years. Today, its offerings range from Rockstar energy drinks to sarsaparilla from Columbia. It employs about 250 people in Modesto, Stockton and Fresno.

Bella Viva Orchards, the dried fruit producer, tied for the industry panel’s top prize at last year’s expo with its Pure & Natural Dried Fruit Slices. The company, owned by the Martino family, is a finalist again this year with an apple product under that label.

Bella Viva’s tie last year was with Cold House Vodka of Modesto, which entered a version flavored like cake batter. The distiller is not entered this year, but that does not mean no vodka. Corbin Sweet Potato Vodka, made from one of Merced County’s signature crops, is up for the People’s Choice Award.

One other Northern San Joaquin Valley company is taking part. Sunrise Fresh of Stockton is a finalist for the Buyer’s Choice Award with its Dark Sweet Dried Cherries.

Entries from elsewhere in the Valley range far and wide – wine-filled chocolates, mung bean crackers, pepperoni tamales, fruits in various forms, and plenty more.

Votes for the People’s Choice Award can be cast at www.fresnofoodexpo.com or www.facebook.com/fresnofoodexpo. The website also offers ticket and general information about the event, which will be at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center.

The sponsors include the city of Fresno, Union Bank and numerous partners.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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