published Monday, March 25th, 2013

Battle of the Brands: It's March madness, Southern flavor-style

Sara Jackson
ONLINE

To vote in the brackets or just to see who's going up against whom, visit http://gardenandgun.com/southern-food-bracket.

Southern Food Bracket
Southern Food Bracket

Have you filled out your bracket yet?

Not the NCAA basketball one. That's so last week. The real fight is the Battle of the Brands, which pits beloved Southern food brands against each other in an online competition created by Garden & Gun magazine.

In round one, for example, Chattanooga's MoonPies are pitted against Chattanooga's Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, while Mayfield Milk and Ice Cream of Athens, Tenn., goes up against Blue Bell Ice Cream from Texas.

Other battles seem a bit lopsided -- just like the NCAA tournament. In one, the 800-pound gorilla of soft drinks, Coca-Cola, faces huge underdog RC Cola -- both are from Georgia -- while another pits Golden Flake Potato Chips of Alabama against tiny Zapp's Chips from Louisiana.

In a closer fight, North Carolina's Texas Pete Hot Sauce goes head to head with Louisiana's Tabasco Pepper Sauce. That one's the tightest race so far, according to Sterling Eason, director of corporate communications with Garden & Gun, which is based in Charleston, S.C.

First-round results will be posted on the magazine's website (www.gardenandgun.com) at 10 a.m. today, she says, and the overall winner, which comes with full bragging rights, will be named April 8.

Tory Johnston, vice president of marketing at Chattanooga Bakery, which makes MoonPies, says the competition is a lot of fun, but he thinks they have a tough opening opponent.

"We got a tough first-round draw with Little Debbie," he says. "They are a formidable competitor. It makes it another layer of fun that they are another hometown favorite also.

"We will have to tap into our loyal fans and their love for the brand."

Mike Gloekler, corporate communications and public relations director at McKee Foods, which makes Little Debbie products, says he appreciates the lighthearted aspect of the bracket and that one of his products was included.

"It's fun to see that your brand is recognized as an icon," he says. "And it's a fun way to see what folks like."

He even has his own preferences in some of the brackets. "I'd have to take Texas Pete myself, being a North Carolina guy."

Southerners are passionate about a lot of things. Elvis, momma, college football, dogs and, as Garden & Gun found out, food. Three years ago, they thought it would be fun to play off the March Madness basketball brackets by creating an online bracket pitting Southern foods against each other. The first couple of brackets were more generic, using fried chicken, barbecue, grits and other Southern staples as competitors.

When the first bracket was put on Facebook, they were overwhelmed by the response, according to Garden & Gun Editor-in-Chief Dave DiBenedetto.

"It exploded," he says. "We had no idea how popular it would be or how seriously people would take it. People were following it step by step and commenting online. They were devastated when fried chicken lost to pulled pork."

Shrimp and grits won that first year, while last year, beignets -- the doughnut-like specialty from New Orleans -- took top honors. Eason says more than 100,000 people voted in the 2012 contest.

The magazine didn't want to repeat itself, so it went with Southern brands this year, DiBenedetto says. Staff members put in lots of hours trying to make the bracket fair and representative, he says.

"We ate a lot more snacks than usual," he says.

Brands are grouped into four categories -- snacks, sweets, pantry and sodas.

"We didn't want the final four to feature three sodas against Krispy Kreme, for example," he says.

DiBenedetto laughed when it was pointed out to him that no Southerner would call them "sodas."

"You're right. I do call it a 'Coke' machine."

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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