Toledoan is one of two winners in coveted Ohio food contest

by Jennifer Ruple

Nicole Reno is a firm believer in the phrase, ‘you are what you eat.’ Having struggled with weight issues her entire life, Reno made the decision to cut processed foods and added sugars from her diet. To help with sweets cravings, she developed a snack bar called the R.O. Bar which became one of two winning entries in the 11th annual Ohio Signature Food Contest.

The contest, co-sponsored by the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF), showcases innovative food entrepreneurs and their products, ready to take that next step in making their dreams a reality.
Reno, a financial and first-time home buyers’ coach, loves to cook and bake and has been working on her product since September 2018. “I took a lot of time to figure out what would make these bars better. I didn’t want them to be too crunchy or too chewy,” she explained.
The R.O. Bar, which stands for raw and organic, is made with just a handful of ingredients such as oatmeal, nut butters, honey, coconut oil and raisins. “My personal trainer once told me that if something has more than five ingredients, it’s probably not that good for me,” Reno said. Reno creates three versions of her award-winning bars including Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip and S’mores.

Although not yet available in stores, Reno sells her bars to family and friends and through her Facebook page for $1 per bar. “Everything healthy is so expensive. People should not have to pay so much for things like personal training and healthy food,” she remarked.
Reno’s goal is to be able to sell her bars in fitness facilities and at farmers markets. “I feel like CIFT has opened a world of opportunity for me. I’m super excited to work with them and have their resources available to me,” she said.
The second award-winning entry in the contest came from Bijou Nuakey of Canal Winchester, Ohio. Nuakey creates an exotic kebab rub with a blend of special African spices ground with corn and a touch of roasted peanuts/almonds and secret ingredients.
During the food contest, held August 2, each finalist made a one-minute pitch about their product, and then judges asked a series of questions. At the end, scores were tallied based on the viability of the product, commercialization potential, business strategy and overall appeal to the marketplace.
CIFT and the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen (NOCK), which are located in Bowling Green, Ohio, will be working with the two winners for one year, providing business and technical assistance, to help them bring their vision of becoming a food entrepreneur to life. The contest can be viewed on BCAN Arts YouTube Channel at

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