The Grocer Own Label Awards: how a winner is born

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It’s oddly compelling viewing: a small number of specially selected men and women in a brightly lit room, answering a barrage of questions. Brows furrow. Faces redden and perspire. There are quips, sighs, giggles, and a fair amount of bickering.

But enough about this summer’s Channel 5 reboot of Blind Date. Let’s talk about Blind Test, a two-day trial of endurance held each year by The Grocer as part of its Own Label Food & Drink Awards judging. It’s the expert round of judging, which follows the consumer trials (conducted by our research partner Cambridge Market Research).

Professionals from the food & drink industry – development chefs, brand owners, bosses of noteworthy suppliers, journalists and the like – meet to nibble and sip their way through hundreds of food & drink products.

There are typically four panels per day, each allotted a number of categories. Samples are served roughly in order of how a day’s dining would pan out. So, a judge can start the day with cereal or yoghurt – but might equally end up with untoasted bread for breakfast.

Each product, prepared exactly to the supplier’s instructions, is served without sight of the packaging or a clue about the retailer. Judges mark out of five for such aspects as taste, appearance and odour. Then the pack and rsp are revealed. Our experts score for design and value, among other factors. They record their comments, and then the next mysterious sample is served.

So it goes on. And it’s a lot of fun – often entertaining, frequently surprising, and always enlightening. Everyone has passionate and informed opinions. They frequently agree, but sometimes not. Good-natured arguments are not only part ‘n’ parcel, they’re to be expected when people start to feel… let’s call it stangry. It’s the fractiousness one does one’s best to swallow while feeling really rather stuffed and sweaty.

For that is the downside of the day: the tightening of one’s slacks around the midriff as frozen pizzas pile on top of coated fish on top of frozen ready meals. It’s a bacchanal of frequently tasty, sometimes dazzling and rarely dull products increasingly offering healthier eating, cleaner packaging, provenance and artistry. Salt crystals sparkle in fatty yellow butter. Light bounces off glazed cheese. Juicy red meats languish alluringly across clean white plates.

If one of your products were to get that far in this year’s judging process, you’d be extremely – and rightly – proud. Make it happen. Enter the 2018 Own Label Awards here by 2 October to be in with a chance.

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