Local grocers dazzle in convention competition

Trade show offered contests in cake decorating, floral design and smoked meats as Grand Forks hosts gathering at Alerus Center.

From left; Ron Winterhalter, Kathy Vohnoutka and Cammy Busta judge entries in the floral design competition at the North Dakota Grocers Association convention at the Alerus Center Monday. It was the first time at the annual convention for the contest. Judges evalutated creativity, color, balance, design and overall appearance. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The North Dakota Grocers Association began its annual convention Monday morning on Sept. 9 at the Alerus Center.

The convention, held for the first time in Grand Forks, drew about 250 members grocers from all across North Dakota to partake in its trade show, attend “breakout” learning sessions and compete in various contests such as cake decorating, floral design and smoked meats. There was also a sculpted cake competition, which allowed bakers to show off their skills designing wedding and other novelty-themed cakes.

Local supermarket chain Hugo’s Family market place had entrants in both the cake decorating and floral design competitions.

“It’s actually going very well. Very, very happy, turnout has been good for the vendors, very excellent,” said John “Jiggs” Dyste, president of the North Dakota Grocers Association. “ (I’m) very happy we have got retailers from all over the state that have shown up .... The Alerus Center is an excellent facility; it works very well for what we do. The staff here has been good, and the Convention Bureau has done everything that they said they were going to do, and they have done it very well. We’re very happy with Grand Forks.”

The trade show featured booths from vendors across all aspects of the supermarket industry, from refrigeration to plastic takeout containers.


One vendor, California-based Crown Poly, showed off its variety of plastic bags -- extra strong and designed to reduce the need for double bagging. The “Eco-Hippo Sak,” so called because Crown Poly says it’s as strong as a hippo, is currently in use at Hugo’s Wine and Spirits. The company also offers compostable bags made of a bioplastic -- similar in strength and characteristics to traditional plastics -- but biodegradable and able to be composted.

The learning sessions featured seminars on a variety of topics, such as New Trends for Incremental Floral Sales, Cheese Snacking and Entertainment Trends, and Social Media for Grocery Stores, presented by Lisa Mangino Swanson, communications director for Hugo’s Family Marketplace.

“I think it’s great; we have a great convention facility, and our town is wonderful, so it's nice to get it here. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be,” said Swanson, adding that she’s imagines the convention would be back in Grand Forks some time in the future, and that people were impressed with the venue.

The competitions caused a buzz to run through the Alerus Center ballroom as cake decorators worked on their creations, and florists assembled their flowers into tall, colorful arrangements. Judges slowly walked around the long tables set up to display the premade sculpted cakes, and the smoked meats tables handed out samples of their hearty wares.

"I think there’s a lot of good competition here,” said Candice Berube, floral manager at Hugo’s Family Marketplace, when queried about how she felt about her chances in the floral arrangement competition.

The convention will conclude on Tuesday, Sept. 10, after the ninth annual NDGA Golf Tournament at the Grand Forks Country Club.

When asked if the Grocers Association would return to Grand Forks, Dyste replied: “That will be up for discussion. We’ll have another meeting in November, and we will decide at that time. There is nothing that has happened that would indicate we wouldn’t come back, but, when that will be, I’m not sure.”


Darla Julin works on a cake in the cake decorating contest at the ND Grocers Association convention at the Alerus Center Monday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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