Mildura’s Councillor for Recreation and Events Mark Eckel has encouraged the community to support the return of this weekend’s Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph in Merbein.
The long-running, popular event returns this year after a COVID-imposed hiatus, supported through Mildura Rural City Council’s Events Funding and Support Grants program.
Cr Eckel highlighted the importance of supporting the event, which he said was now one of the few remaining culinary-based community events in our region, and a point of difference.
“I remember going back to the days when the event started in Ouyen in the late 1990s/early 2000s, when the township would be a hive of activity as visitors, and some of Australia’s top bakers, converged on the town from across the country,” he said.
“It is an event that is very much sought after by other areas, which is why I’m glad it remains where it belongs – in the municipality where it all started.
“I remember when it was announced in 2011 that it would no longer be held in Ouyen, and I held the Events portfolio back then as well, I was besieged with calls from the media in regards to other municipalities interested in taking on the event – and my response was very much the same then as it would be now – hands off, this is our event.”
Cr Eckel said the event served an important role for the local baking industry, providing a chance for local businesses to put their best products forward in a fun, competitive environment, while serving as an economic driver for the broader tourism sector.
“I know talking to previous winners that they’ve experienced a significant increase in their business due to their involvement in the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph, particularly if they’ve been an outright or category winner, as customers are keen to sample what all the fuss is about,” he said.
“And for our tourism industry, previous events have drawn visitors from as far away as Western Australia, and it’s great to see Merbein hosting the event now.”
The Sunraysia Bread and Butter Bakery took out the Peoples’ Choice Award in 2019 and will once again be putting forward their best vanilla slices this weekend.
Owner/Manager Dean Picken said the event was important for the entire local baking industry.
“It’s really important, because after a couple of years off due to COVID, I’d like to think there will be a lot of support from a lot of bakers from across Victoria, and I know there are some guys from South Australia that are coming across as well,” Mr Picken said.
“It’s about trying to put Mildura on the map and getting people from out of town to see what is happening here.”
Mr Picken said the event served as an economic driver for the industry.
“Even this week in the lead up to the event, we’re selling so many vanilla slices, and our staff in the shop are great at promoting the event when customers come in,” he said.
“The week afterwards and in the following months, people are still talking about it and recognising it, and by participating each year, our vanilla slices get better and better because we continue to tweak our recipe based on the judges’ comments.”
Mr Picken said he expected to sell at least 3,500 vanilla slices from his stall at the event this weekend.
Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph organising committee member Janeen Norris described the response to this year’s event as “phenomenal”.
“It’s been amazing, we’re getting entries from everywhere, including people flying in on the Saturday morning of the event with their entries,” Mrs Norris said.
“Bakers have been waiting for the event to return. We’ve had calls from people saying ‘don’t break my heart and tell me it’s not happening this year, tell me it’s going ahead’.
“As a result, we’re seeing them come back in numbers very close to what they were previously.”