In front of a packed audience at London's glamorous Dorchester Hotel, Aldi was crowned The Grocer of the Year. And this year's awards proved, resoundingly, that big isn't always best, with new awards also recognising the diversity of the UK grocery industry.

Above all, the Gold Awards, sponsored by Reach,, British Gas and News International, were a celebration of excellence in a fiercely competitive trading environment. With 21 categories, including the first-ever Store Manager of the Year award, and guest speaker Shadow Chancellor Dr Vince Cable, it was a night to remember.

Grocer of the Year: Aldi takes centre stage with giant killing feat

In a night full of upsets, it was the biggest award of the night, Aldi's victory over big four giants Asda and Morrisons that shocked the most.

But the judges agreed Aldi's influence over the grocery retail scene in 2008 belied its minnow status, rocking the Establishment with its appealing offer, product quality, strong advertising, agenda-setting price-promotion tactics spearheaded by its gung-ho managing director Paul Foley.

"The discounters rode the crest of the wave in 2008. It was by common consent the year of the discounter," said one judge. "But Aldi rode it better than its rivals by going on the front foot."

Aldi identified a gap in the market for cheap fresh food, and upping its quality, forced the mighty Tesco not only to re-evaluate its offer but to change its strapline in response.

Single price promotions, highlighted in its first-ever TV ad campaigns, were subsequently widely copied by far larger rivals. And with its growing appeal to shoppers, it continues to cause head-scratching among the big four mults, who have looked on enviously at the simplicity of its supply chain.

Foley's leadership and his endearing humility have also warmed him to many a journalist. Allied to a strong store expansion programme, sales were up more than 20% in 2008 and profits improved exponentially.

Britain's Favourite supermarket 2009: Tesco retains the top spot for the fifth year in a row
Tesco has retained its position as Britain’s favourite supermarket for the fifth year. Nielsen’s Homescan PanelView survey showed Tesco won in four of the six criteria judged by consumers, including service and social responsibility, as well as range and stock levels. Asda trumped it on price, and M&S on quality, but Tesco was the clear winner.

The survey, based on data compiled from a total of 7,255 statistically weighted households representative of the UK population, showed that while Tesco has maintained its place at the top, consumers’ opinion of the discounters has seen a big boost, albeit from a low base, with Aldi in particular improving its score.

The Co-op also fared well, but again from a low base. This came at the expense of the big four plus M&S and Waitrose, which all saw scores declining. Asda put up a big fight for the top spot, coming second in the range and stock level categories, while Sainsbury's was second in the quality stakes behind M&S, and third in range, service and stock levels. Social responsibility, introduced as a category last year, was retained by Tesco, with The Co-op Group second and Asda third.

Independent Retail Chain of the Year: Tates sizes up empire with Eurospar and acquisitions
Spar retailer Tates has reclaimed its crown as the UK's top independent retail chain, a title that it had picked up for two years on the bounce before losing out to Mills Group last year.

This has been a significant year for Tates as it was marked by a move away from its c-store comfort zone with the opening of two Eurospar stores, a much bigger mini-supermarket format. The stores, in Nottingham and Sheffield, are 4,500 and 6,500 sq ft respectively.

The larger stores were part of a batch of five the retailer bought from The Co-operative Group - marking a change from the normal trend of The Co-op buying up indies - and takes Tates' total store numbers to 211.

The retailer also took advantage of the collapse of Woolworths by snapping up the former Woolies store in Ludlow, Shropshire. In total Tates has spent £11.6m on acquiring new stores and upgrading existing sites since the beginning of last year. Despite a comprehensive strategy to reduce costs and increase efficiency, the business remains resolutely on the acquisition trial.

The major investment comes on the back of a strong financial performance. For the year to April 2008 Tates achieved a 5.7% sales increase to £275m with record net profits of £5.4m.

Not bad going given the poor weather and the recession. Tates should stay out of the comfort zone.

Top Launch of the Year: Just fancy that... Mr Kipling cake turns exceedingly big
Premier Foods dropped Mr Kipling's "exceedingly good" tag to give its cakes a more youthful appeal and there was no question it found its fun side with the fondant fluorescence of The Big French Fancy.

Primarily designed for the celebration market, the supersized version of the Mr Kipling classic is 80g of luminous icing, sponge and lemon curd, and launched last August for consumers who want briefly to rebel in calorie-conscious times.

Judges welcomed the colourful line and said it would brighten up a cake market lacking in dynamic NPD. "This is a fun innovation that has benefited from strong trade support," said one buyer. "Cake is not in strong growth at the moment and it's good to have something that makes you smile."

Branded Supplier of the Year: The eyebrows have it... it's Cadbury, by a Wispa
The much-heralded return of Wispa wasn't just a hit with Facebook campaigners. Its success made Cadbury the toast of retail buyers, too.

But a vigorous run of other exciting NPD and marketing activity at Cadbury also impressed judges, who found the frenetic eyebrow-raising TV ad for Cadbury Dairy Milk especially engaging and effective. A strong Easter and booming Creme Egg sales, supported by a slickly run logistics operation, also contributed.

Against heavyweight opponents such as Scottish & Newcastle, last year's winner PepsiCo and confectionery arch-rival Nestlé, judges praised Cadbury's ability to deliver exciting promotional strategies for retailers, noting that its flexible approach to price-led promotions was especially appreciated.

Own-Label Supplier of the Year: McBride NPD can compare with best brand launches
McBride picked up the Own-Label Supplier of the Year gong this year after overcoming horrendous conditions in the household goods and personal care businesses. The £700m company faced off steep and fluctuating raw material price increases and continued to invest for its retailers.

This was reflected in the buyers' comments in our Own-Label Supplier survey in April. In what is traditionally recognised as one of the most competitive Grocer Gold awards, the own-label specialist was lauded for its depth of range and the proactive stance it took towards managing the household and personal care categories. McBride "offers NPD to match major brand launches", according to one supplier. Strong praise indeed.

Own-Label Range of the Year: The Co-op's responsible sourcing is quite a catch
The judges were full of praise for The Co-operative Group's responsibly sourced fish, describing it as a job well done in a sector difficult to market.

Since the range's September launch, only fish from 'responsible' sources, including MSC lines, are used in canned, fresh and frozen own-label lines and products with fish as an ingredient. The range comprises 33 new products and five existing lines from new sources.

The message had been well-communicated, the judges said, with simple, informative packaging and 'There's no catch' PoS. The Co‑op Group's higher-welfare Elmwood Chicken range was also praised for its "strong, reinforced core values", while judges said Aldi's Around the World in 8 Days ready meals delivered high quality at a competitive price.

Wholesaler of the Year: JJ Food Service - its radical thinking is key to profits
Most wholesalers work on slender margins. Not JJ Food Service, an Enfield-based operation that boasted a whopping 7.4% pre-tax profit margin for the year ending April 2008 as pre-tax profits rocketed 93% and turnover rose 13% to £107m.

Much of the wholesaler's success can be attributed to MD Mustafa Kiamil's entrepreneurial spirit. He started out supplying to kebab shops, and from this base the radical Kiamil has continued to bring new ideas into the sometimes staid and old-fashioned wholesale sector.

For example, he decided to create a business within a business, doubling up his five delivered depots as cash & carries. Customers are given a discount if they collect their goods themselves. And they can order in advance so their goods are picked and ready for collection to save time. This new service, with a minimum of investment, has helped to drive up sales.

Kiamil also turned his ruthless gaze to the computer systems that are so important to the wholesale sector. Paying huge sums of money for the latest technology isn't really Kiamil's style.

Instead, he commissioned son Rifat to design new technology in house for managing the database of customers, as well as route mapping and a website that allows customers to order online.

On the day of the awards, he even picked up a new £2.5m contract (see p13).

Specialist Wholesaler of the Year: Suma shows how to put ethics first... in everything
Try telling food wholesaler Suma a recession isn't a good time to invest. NPD has come in the shape of two new balsamic products, organic canned cherry tomatoes, three Italian pestos and a region-specific Italian olive oil. It followed that with an own-brand range of household-cleaning products under the Ecoleaf brand that are UK-produced and entirely made from natural plant and vegetable sources.

Ecoleaf ties in with the company's all-encompassing ethics policy. All workers are paid exactly the same net hourly rate, which it says makes it the biggest single-pay organisation in Europe.

Supplying independents from Booths and Harrods to co-op societies as far flung as Orkney and the Scilly Isles, it is also developing exports, from Scandinavia to Malaysia.

Exporter of the Year: Nisa International: flying the flag for British exports
As the weakness of the pound provided exporters with a strong following wind, no business capitalised more effectively than Nisa International.

Flying the flag for British brands and own label overseas, in a year when exports of UK food and drink hit an all-time high as the appeal of British produce strengthens, the exporter racked up sales growth of more than 25% - well ahead of the 15% sector improvement . Judges hailed the wholesaler's "huge achievement promoting British brands globally".

New markets tapped for the first time this year included Mexico and Nepal. The group now exports 15,000 British products, including 3,000 items added with the launch of its Speciality range, which racked up more than £0.75m of sales in its debut year.

Online Retailer of the Year: Ocado for the thrifty
In the week Ocado announced plans to float on the stock exchange, it also beat Asda and last year's winner Tesco to take online retailer of the year, impressing judges with the variety, originality and effectiveness of its innovation.

Sales in 2008 were up an impressive 26% to £430m, spurred on by a string of initiatives. To appeal to increasingly price-conscious shoppers, it took the bold decision to launch the Tesco Price Match promise last March. The launch of Ocado Everyday in December - a range of staples at lower prices than Waitrose own-label equivalents - was followed by another brassy move in March that saw Ocado undercut Waitrose on other own-label products. And new receipts offered shoppers a unique at-a-glance guide to the sell-by dates of their purchases, helping to eliminate waste.

In October, Ocado opened its first purpose-built RDC, in Leeds with the capacity for 14,000 deliveries a week in Yorkshire. Ocado also hired 504 staff in 2008, taking the workforce to over 3,500. "We've outdone ourselves, and the good news is the growth is continuing at the same pace," said co-founder Jason Gissing.

Green Wholesaler of the Year: All staff on board to help 3663 make a difference
3663 First for Foodservice impressed the judges with the most comprehensive commitment to green principles. Its Sustainability Board includes regular staff members and has worked to source more local products from local people (up 36%), expand organic, fair trade and Rainforest Alliance ranges, and supply Red Tractor and MSC lines.

A new flagship depot at Paddock Wood in Kent, opening shortly, reuses recovered building material and runs on low-energy heating and lighting, while across the group 93% of its total energy comes from renewables. An innovative cooking oil recycling scheme and exploration of ammonia as a greener alternative for refrigeration also helped it win in the closest run of the contests.

Green Supplier of the Year: Purple goes green, along with the water and milk
Cadbury has set the agenda with its ethical and environmental stance, none more so than with its Purple Goes Green programme. Toolkits to cut carbon emissions and energy and water use have been delivered. All sites in Britain and Ireland - and others in South Africa and mainland Europe - now use automated monitoring to track energy use to help cut carbon emissions 50% by 2020.

All sites have water reduction programmes, while the Bangalore factory in India is improving the groundwater resources on which 40% of the population depends, and could return as much as three litres for every litre extracted.

Milk contributes 60% of milk chocolate's carbon footprint so Cadbury has also partnered with dairy farmers in Selkley Vale to help them reduce emissions.

Green Retailer of the Year: Cutting out cars, cutting bags and scrapping waste
Ocado's business model strips out two key sources of carbon dioxide emissions - heating and lighting a store; and requiring transport to pick up the shopping. By its very definition, said the judges, it is therefore greener than all rivals.

Ocado's HQ at Hatfield is also logistically well suited for a short supply chain, backhauling and comprehensive recycling of packaging.

But it wasn't just the model that the judges were commending. In August Ocado became "the first online retailer in the world" to detail the guaranteed minimum life of fresh food on its website.

A new meal-planning receipt, listing what must be eaten by when, "was a real winner, helping shoppers to eliminate food waste", said one judge. Chilled and frozen goods are also delivered in colour-coded bags, which minimises the risk of products going off. And with expert advice on using leftovers, Ocado is further helping customers avoid throwing money in the bin.

As for plastic bags, drivers collect bags for recycling at the warehouse, where they are fed into purpose-built bag-making machines. A greener alternative to exporting plastic to the Far East.

Best of all, Ocado's business model means, as it grows, it will actually get greener. There's enough capacity to handle three times the current order volumes.

Consumer Initiative of the yearSainsbury's Switch & Save makes own label a winner
“A simple idea, brilliantly communicated and executed” was the judges’ verdict. Sainsbury's Switch & Save campaign hit stores in September 2008, just as the economy nosedived. TV and press ads pushed the message that consumers could save at least 20% by switching from brands to own label, while comparative shopping baskets of brands and own label at store entrances reinforced the message.

Sainsbury's customer research had shown shoppers were unaware how much cheaper own-label goods were, and they were also uncertain about their quality. The campaign was backed by a money-back guarantee if quality disappointed.

Sainsbury's also actively promoted the quality of its own brand, featuring its tomato ketchup heavily in the campaign with the message that not only was it 20% cheaper than the leading brand, it also had 33% more tomatoes, 65% less salt and 20% less sugar, and was voted tastier than its branded equivalent in blind testing.

When Sainsbury's came to report half-year results in November, it cited the campaign as a factor in the 11.2% uplift in sales with Basics lines up 40%. Sainsbury's says that following the campaign, own-label sales have remained higher than before while brands have not been adversely affected as the campaign drew new shoppers in and increased sales overall.

Discounter of the Year: Aldi heads for mainstream with star turn in recession
Aldi is well on the way to becoming a household name after a dream 2008. The German discounter's performance in the UK has been one of the success stories of the recession.

Its well-publicised plans to open a store a week for the foreseeable future attracted headlines while its growing store estate has made it accessible to an increasing number of shoppers. It advertised on TV for the first time in 2008, and entered into a tie-up with celebrity chef Phil Vickery, who endorsed the quality of Aldi's own labels in ads and podcasts.

Its own-label offer is attracting awards and gaining a reputation for quality and value. The downturn has spurred customers into trying something new and many came away impressed with Aldi's own-label products, which make up 95% of lines.

The phrase 'The Aldi Effect' was coined by the media to describe businesses that thrive in the recession, and even Tesco developed its own Discounter Range to counter the threat. Sir Terry Leahy is known to admire Aldi's simple no-frills business model.

In a year where Aldi also diversified into selling flowers and holidays, the discounter joined the British Retail Consortium last summer, a sure sign of its growing confidence and stature in the industry. No wonder MD Paul Foley feels that Aldi's success will continue after the recession.

Business Initiative of the Year: Co-op Group's media site attracts hefty ad spend
The judges hailed The Co-operative Group's media website as "a clear winner from first read".

Despite the distraction of buying Somerfield, the site,, was launched in July last year to make it easier for companies to advertise across the wide-ranging family of businesses, which stretches across food, pharmacy, travel, funeralcare and an online electrical business.

The initiative, which The Co-op Group claims is the first of its kind for a major retailer, allows customers and suppliers to plan media campaigns through 32 media channels, including the largest digital screen network in Europe, a food store radio network with a larger audience than Radio 1 and a customer magazine with a circulation of 1.5 million.

According to The Co-op Group, the site has "exceeded expectations" , delivering more than £5m of retail income, with clients including Unilever, PepsiCo, Mars, Coca-Cola and Heinz. It plans to expand into outdoor media this year. The judges said the initiative was "innovative, engaging, fresh and effective" and an "excellent communication tool for customers and suppliers".

The Grocer 33 Awards

Store manager of the year: Mike Toth is the toast of Morrisons
Morrisons' Coventry store manager Mike Toth won the inaugural Store Manager of the Year Award in a desperately close competition.

After a series of PowerPoint presentations and a grilling by a panel of retail judges, Toth impressed the judges with his passion, integrity, management skills, retail execution and willingness to take calculated risks in handling a highly complex 35,000 sq ft city centre supermarket, whose sales had grown by 150% since he took over the former Safeway store in 2005.

Waitrose store manager Paul Reeley was highly commended by the judging panel

Asda CEO Andy Bond picked up the price award for the 12th consecutive year as it extended the price gap over rivals to £1.34 per week.

Morrisons group trading director Martyn Jones delighted in a last-gasp victory over Sainsbury's with 97.64% availibility.

A second victory for Morrisons, again sealed in the final week. Director of retail Mark Gunter collected the award.