The judges have ruled. The votes have been cast. But who will be the winners of our inaugural Own Label Excellence Awards?

All eyes are now on London's Savoy Hotel where the winners of The Grocer's first Own Label Excellence Awards will be revealed on May 16.

Our new industry awards were developed to reward the most outstanding products in the own label category.

One of the unique features of these awards - which are open to existing and new products, as long as they are commercially available and not in development - is that they are judged both by consumers (arguably the fiercest critics of any product) and by panels of industry experts.

The consumer input came via panel sessions conducted around the UK by Cambridge Market Research, an independent consultancy with more than 25 years experience in this field. Paul Beresford, managing director of the consultancy, says the products entered went down very well with its consumer panels, whose membership reflected a cross-section of the population.

Beresford reveals: "Respondents spontaneously acknowledged that the quality of the majority of products tasted was very high. As a result, most scores were in the upper quartile of each of their respective categories."

All of which will be music to the ears of those buyers that entered.

They will also be fascinated to learn that one of the trends to emerge from the consumer research was the enduring appeal of old favourites - from apple pies to cottage pies - particularly where these are delivered through the use of top-quality ingredients rather than overly complex flavour combinations.

Consumers also enjoyed foods offering a new twist on traditional recipes, particularly if the resulting product was deemed too complex to attempt to produce from scratch and so could justify a premium price.

That does not mean the panel members were unadventurous.

Many products on the short list could be deemed niche foods, but won through because consumers liked the taste and, in many cases, were tempted into new categories or flavours by what they tested.

"The entry standard across meat, fish and poultry was particularly high," adds Beresford. "Respondents commented on the range and number of duck products - top quality and tastier than expected. Duck is clearly a new meat option moving into their repertoire."

Entrants will get a top-line report from the consumer judging process, which will give real insight into what shoppers think. Each report will contain verbatim feedback as well as consumer ratings of the product and how it performed relative to others in its category. The reports will also be used by our panels of expert judges who met last week to produce the final verdicts in our categories.

Armed with these consumer insights, our judges were asked to evaluate products on criteria such as taste, appearance, packaging, content, value for money and clarity of labelling.

The two judging panels were led by Mark Hix, chief director of Caprice Holdings, and Robin Whitbread, Somerfield's former group buying and marketing director and Kwik Save MD.

"The key feature of our new awards scheme is the robust and vigorous nature of the judging. Winners will know they are truly the most outstanding products in their category," says Julian Hunt, editor of The Grocer. "As well as the prestige of getting an award from The Grocer, our scheme will provide a fantastic platform for the winners to promote their products.

"Further, our judging process means the winners will be able to highlight the fact their product has been given the thumbs up by consumers."

Go to to find the shortlists.

Winners will be announced at a special presentation lunch to be held at The Savoy on March 16 and they will be able to use the awards logo in their PR, on packs and in stores free of charge.

For further information, go to our web site. To book places at the event, call Nicola Smith on 01293 867629. But hurry! Tickets are limited.