It’s a historic age in grocery. A time of extraordinary change, with powerful dynasties struggling to exert control, with dynamic and disruptive new forces at play, with new shopping habits and consumer trends, technological advances, consumer activism and empowerment, new routes to market, and a whole host of external pressures, from the living wage to business rates, not to mention Brexit, which is still creating huge and unhelpful uncertainty.
So what better place to record and celebrate this history than in the historic surroundings of the Guildhall, as we did this week? For amid all the disruption, the sheer brilliance of the UK grocery sector keeps shining through. Brave calls, heroic turnarounds, inspired ideas and superb delivery borne of painstaking planning. These are the storied qualities that The Grocer Gold Awards seeks to recognise and champion.
As you would expect there are some inspiring stories among the 28 winners, including startups that have come from nowhere to take the market by storm, like Freaks of Nature, Childs Farm, Happen and the international sales phenomenon that is Huel.
It’s also heartening to see purpose-driven ventures prevailing. One thinks of independent retailer Cook’s community-driven programme; Thornton’s Budgens tackling plastic waste; Wholegood’s support for small retailers; Tesco’s work on food waste; and Belazu’s efforts to inspire its workforce.
And, of course, there’s the Co-op’s triumph, winning grocer of the year for the first time at The Grocer Gold Awards. Its victory is powerful on so many levels, as it’s got back its mojo, reconnecting with its customers, rediscovering its purpose and modernising its proposition (while being led by the UK’s first female food CEO).
The reception to its victory on Tuesday was a reminder of the fondness with which it is held. And to think it came so perilously close to being lost. There is nothing like a turnaround to inspire. And there is no turnaround quite like the Co-op’s.