Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose shared the top honours in The Grocer's first Own Label Excellence Awards - winning three prizes apiece at our awards lunch hosted by broadcaster Richard Johnson at the Savoy in London this week - while Asda and Aldi picked up two each.
The awards - which are sponsored by the Private Label Manufacturers Association - were developed as a way of recognising the importance of retailer-branded products in the market and to reward the best food and drink lines available.
The Grocer set about trying to identify the best in a pretty unique way - by marrying the opinions of consumers and food experts in a two-stage judging process.
To gain the views of shoppers, The Grocer teamed up with Cambridge Market Research, which has been supplying consumer feedback on product development for more than 20 years. It found that those sitting on its panels were very impressed by the quality of the vast majority of the products tested. As a result, most of the scores from our consumer panels were very high.
Products that did well tended to be very good versions of traditional favourites, often with an unusual flavour twist that justified paying a premium price.
Retro flavours also did well - with Asda's lemon curd and Aldi's plum tart being prime examples among our winners.
Typically, it was products that did not use an excess of over-rich components, or complex flavour combinations, that went down well with our consumer panels. That said, they did appreciate exciting recipes when well executed, giving good marks to Waitrose's sashimi and sushi, Tesco's Just Like Mummyji and Sainsbury's Peking duck (one of many duck products in the shortlist for our meat and fish category).
Cambridge Market Research also developed a special Innovation and Relevance rating for the products in order to help the top performers stand out even more.
This consumer feedback was used by our panels of expert judges, which were led by Robin Whitbread, a retail consultant and non-executive director of Jessops, whose career has included senior roles at Somerfield and Sainsbury, and Mark Hix, executive chef of Caprice Holdings.
They focused on the look and taste of the products, the quality of the ingredients used and, of course, decided whether the products really did represent value for money. And that raises an interesting question: when talking about NPD in the own label market, what does excellence actually mean? Is it just about posh grub enjoyed occasionally by a few or everyday foods bought frequently by the many?
In many ways, the answer can be found on our list of winners - where you will see that both sorts of products have been successful. If our 13 winners share one thing in common, it is the fact they are outstanding examples of own label products that do a great job for consumers and fill a real gap in the market.
While the overall standard of entries was very high, our judges did spot opportunities being missed by retailers. For instance: some entries were felt not to be selling the quality of their ingredients, or their provenance, to maximum advantage.
On a more negative note, some judges were disappointed that a handful of products sold as part of a premium range were guilty of over-promising and not delivering in terms of quality and taste. We also found examples of products with cooking instructions that were clearly wrong, which meant the food was overcooked and damaged.
Nevertheless, these are minor points compared with the overall incredibly positive feedback from the judging process, where both experts and consumers were impressed by what they tasted.
Julian Hunt, editor of The Grocer, says: "The key feature of our awards is the robust and vigorous nature of the judging. As well as the prestige of getting an award from The Grocer, our scheme provides a fantastic platform for winners to promote their products. Further, our judging process means winners can highlight the fact that their products have been given the thumbs up by consumers, thus providing another point of difference in a tough market."Ambient Grocery
Asda Extra Special Lemon Curd
Consumers praised this lemon curd for tasting as good as home-made
Sainsbury's Three Wise Men rich fruit cake
Our judges loved the novel appearance of this 'irresistable' cake. Consumers thought the quality of ingredients more than justified its premium price
Tesco's Just Like Mummyji mango chicken
A ready meal offering a wonderful, fresh flavour that our judges felt was bringing something new to the category by tapping into the interest in British Asian cuisine. Impressed both judges and consumers
Waitrose's Columbian Blacktail eggs
A great concept in free-range eggs with a wonderful story behind it that appealed to both our expert judges and consumers
Waitrose's Taiko Sashimi and
Praised for its authentic taste, use of fresh ingredients and outstanding value for money. Appealed even to non-adventurous consumers
Aldi's Specially Selected continental plum tart
The texture of this winning product, and its balance of flavours, made it a hit with our judges. Consumers also gave it high marks
Aldi's Specially Selected Italian stone-backed pizza Romagna
Our judges enthused about the delicious, authentic ingredients used to make this pizza, and they were amazed by its low price point
health & Better-for-you
Sainsbury's probiotic orange juice drink
Consumers loved the fact that despite its health credentials, this juice retained its fresh, natural flavour with no after-taste
meat, fish & poultry
Sainsbury's Peking whole crispy aromatic duck
An easy-to-prepare product that looks attractive and tastes great. Consumers felt it offered a genuine meal of restaurant quality
Waitrose's organic chipolatas
Described by our judges as having a lovely juicy flavour, our consumer panels praised the quality of these tasty chipolatas
Tesco's Finest Kashmiri mango sauce
An innovative product that looked and tasted great, and offered good value for money. Most consumers would buy it again in the future
snacks & treats
Tesco's Temptations blueberry yoghurt nuts and raisins
A clever concept that our judges felt would appeal to busy people looking for snacks they could dip in and out of. Great taste too!
soft drinks & beverages
Asda's white grape spritzer
A well-thought-through flavour recipe meant this delivered on taste. Consumers also liked the fact it offered real value-for-money