From Smarties to Seeds of Change, brands of all sizes came together to celebrate The Grocer's inaugural Branded Excellence Awards 2008 on Wednesday.

The launch of the 18-category Branded Excellence Awards follows the success of The Grocer Own Label Excellence Awards - already a major fixture in the industry calendar, despite only being launched in 2006.

Some 169 branded lines were entered into this first year of the "Brandies", with 90 products making it past the consumer testing round to reach our panel of expert judges.

A list of 65 finalists was then put forward, with the winners announced by The Grocer's editor Adam Leyland. "The Branded Excellence Awards is a celebration of innovating, updating and reformulating to remain relevant, exciting and on the money," he told the audience of brand owners, as he highlighted the promotional opportunities. "One of the priorities of these awards was to provide new - and free - opportunities for winners to help market and promote the excellence of their products using the Branded Excellence Awards logo."

Household names such as PG Tips, Quavers, Müller and Smarties were among the winners, praised by consumers and judges for consistent quality, great taste and healthy reformulations. But there was also an excellent show from smaller, innovative businesses, with Burnt Sugar and soup company The Yorkshire Provender just two that saw off competition from the multinationals. "Winning such an award makes you stick with the conviction that started it all," said Belinda Williams, joint owner of The Yorkshire Provender. "We're thrilled a little company like us can be nationally recognised."

The Yorkshire Provender was one of 11 category winners that had a health or goodness message at its core. Quorn was another, with its winning Gruyère Cheese Escalopes featuring low saturated fat flashes on front of packs, and the brand frequently purchased as a healthy alternative. "Innovation is so important. It's a huge part of our business and drives 25% of new sales every year," said Jeremy Hughes, customer marketing controller of Quorn owner Premier Foods.

Burnt Sugar should provide inspiration to other small businesses out there to pursue their own agenda and know they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with multinationals. The business beat Nestlé and Wrigley to win the sugar confectionery category.

"It's great to have our product recognised and have our simple message endorsed. Everyone knows we make good fudge, but this makes it legitimate," said Burnt Sugar sales director Doug Struthers.

The combination of consumer and expert judging creates what The Grocer hopes will become a highly effective, highly coveted and highly valued industry award and marketing tool for the best products. "It's an amazing endorsement and particularly important to be recognised by consumers and industry," said Kate Barnett of Tilda, which won in rice, noodles and pasta. n