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."