own label awards 2017

This week we present the winners of our Own Label Food & Drink Awards. There’s a lot of them (134 to be precise), But we make no apologies for the number of winners. Not only is this competition the largest of its kind. The sector is huge, covering 68 food and drink categories, without including major grocery categories like health and beauty, household and tobacco, not to mention alcoholic drinks, for which we have a separate set of awards.

And we’ve also tweaked the awards to better reflect and reward innovation. Instead of Golds and Silvers, we’ve streamed them into category champions and innovation winners, as we were finding that a lot of the silver medal winners were more innovative, but were losing out to well executed ‘classics’. In our view, there has to be a proper reward for retailers who are prepared to take risks to meet new consumer trends and to differentiate their offers, rather than simply taking the safe route, and copying each other.

There’s much to learn from the winners. Key trends included snack packs and mini sizes to help with portion control (though not in the case of the mini cucumbers!); the use of glazes for cheese and meat, and no fewer than 11 slow-cooked entries. Beetroot popped up in various guises, including in a wrap, a pie and a glaze. And honey made lots of appearances, whether that be Manuka, Chilean, Spanish, Blossom or simply ‘wild flower’. Japanese and Malaysian food seemed particularly popular, with Kaksas, Gyozas and Katsu among the Oriental treats.

The clean eating trend is also alive and well in the own label category, with liberal use of seeds, quinoa and juices mixes, not to mention baked goods enhanced with a variety of grains or gluten free.

Provenance was very much to the fore, with three Moroccan, six Italian, two Spanish and no less than 13 Scottish products. Named ingredients also helped to provide products with a new twist: Manuka Honey in a tea infusion; Sicilian Lemon Curd in an ice cream; and Alphonso Mangoes in a chutney here.

There’s also much to admire. Inevitably attention will focus on the continued success of the discounters. The fact Aldi won more innovation awards than any other retailer underlines the fact that it doesn’t just copy brands at lower prices. It also innovates, through entries such as its Harvest Morn Protein Crunch cereal, edamame snack pots and wild boar pate. And such is Aldi’s confidence in its winning formula, it plans to quadruple in size, CEO Matthew Barnes has told The Grocer.

Not that Aldi had it all its own way in the Own Label Awards. Another product we enjoyed was the Tesco pickled butternut salad, winner of the Innovative Product of the Year. And credit to Tesco for winning Innovative Own Label Retailer of the Year too.

Marks & Spencer also brought real restaurant magic to the food aisle, with its impressive Chocolate Melting Domes, voted Champion of Champions. And while Asda has had nothing but bad press (or no press) in recent months, it scored big hits with its Smash Cake, while one of its frozen ready meals, the Carrot Spaghetti Bolognese uses spiralised carrot. On trend, but with a twist. I could go on.

And while attention will focus on the retailers, credit also has to go to the countless suppliers supporting them. There isn’t room to include their details here. (And in the case of the discounters they didn’t provide them.) But an own-label retailer without a supplier is like a pencil without a lead. Pointless.