There was plenty of sizzling talent on show at The Grocer's Branded Excellence awards. Nicolette Allen reports

The message at The second annual The Grocer Branded Excellence Awards was loud and clear. In fraught economic times, innovation is more important than ever.

Sponsored by SHS Sales & Marketing, Anand International and Kepner-Tregoe and presented by celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and The Grocer editor Adam Leyland, the awards recognised the industry’s efforts over the past 12 months and urged it to continue raising the bar for creative excellence.

“Innovation is expensive — but it’s not a luxury,” Leyland told nominees at London’s Park Lane Hotel on 18 February. “It delivers progress, saves time, and adds to the quality of our lives — and nowhere is innovation better able to succeed in these aims than in the food and drink industry.”

Nominees in 20 categories were whittled down to the eventual winners through a rigorous, two-tier judging process. First, consumer opinion on taste, appearance and packaging was canvassed by Cambridge Market Research. Next, industry figures including food critics, technologists, branding experts, development heads and retail buyers, as well as journalists from The Grocer, cast their expert eyes over the consumer survey results before getting stuck into some tasting themselves.

Among those to emerge triumphant at this year’s Brandies were household names such as Flora, McCain, Birds Eye, PG Tips and Pringles.

But although winning brand owners included the likes of Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Tate & Lyle, not all of the victors were fmcg giants – smaller players also had a taste of the limelight.

The Dickinson & Morris Mini Melton Mowbray Pork Pies were hailed as an “iconic product well delivered” in the savoury chilled foods category, while the “sophisticated and classy” Higgidy Spinach, Feta & Toasted Pine Nut Pie scooped the hot category honours for having “brought pies into the 21st century”.

Other winners included the “indulgent but not too pricey” Gü Cheeky & Saucy Little Pots Au Chocolat and the “strong, rich, rounded” Seeds of Change Basil, Parmesan & Cherry Tomato Organic Pasta Sauce.

Judges were impressed by the “strength and originality of the branding concept” offered by Milk Link’s The Red One Really Remarkable Red Leicester. “To win this prestigious award for The Red One is testament to the taste and quality of cheese produced at the Taw Valley creamery,” said senior brand manager Rebecca Miah.

Tilda’s Steamed Pure Basmati Rice saw off pasta and noodle brands to claim a category gong for the second year running.

“It is an honour to win an award from one of the UK’s foremost trade publications for a second year running,” said Jonathan Calland, head of external affairs.

With the economy set to get worse before it gets better, and competition for space on shelf fiercer than ever, the benchmark for quality and innovation is certain to be even higher at next year’s awards.n

Bagged snacks
Winner: Pringles Rice Infusions Bite Size - Cheese & Onion

Bakery – breads/biscuits/cakes
Winner: Thorntons Mini Chocolate Brownies; Highly commented: Crown Farms Roti Paratha

Winner: Dorset Cereals Tasty Toasted Spelt, Barley & Oat Flakes

Chilled foods – savoury cold
Winner: Dickinson & Morris Mini Melton Mowbray Pork Pies

Chilled foods – savoury hot
Winner: Higgidy Spinach, Feta & Toasted Pine Nut Pie

Chilled foods – sweet
Winner: Gü Cheeky & Saucy Little Pots Au Chocolat

Confectionery – sugar
Winner: Mentos Pure Fresh Freshmint Pocket Bottle

Cooking sauces
Winner: Seeds of Change Basil, Parmesan & Cherry Tomato Organic Pasta Sauce

Dairy – butters & spreads
Winner: Flora Buttery

Dairy – cheese
Winner: The Red One Really Remarkable Red Leicester

Dairy – drinks/yoghurts
Winner: Cravendale whole milk

Frozen foods – fish
Winner: Birds Eye Omega-3 Fish Fingers

Frozen foods – informal eating
Winner: Goodfella’s Friday Fever Fajita Chicken Pizza; Highly commended: Monty’s Bakehouse Hot Posh Scoffins – Smoked British Bacon & Parmesan Cheese

Frozen foods – savoury
Winner: McCain Sweet Potato with Rosemary & Garlic

Frozen foods – sweet
Winner: Lyle’s Golden Syrup Sponge Ice Cream

Hot beverages
Winner: PG Tips Rainforest Alliance Certified

Winner: Tilda Pure Basmati

Sauces – pickles/chutneys/relishes
Winner: Geeta’s Tomato & Onion Chutney

Soft drinks
Winner: Cawston Vale Pressed Apple & Rhubarb

Winner: Glorious! Marco Pierre White Chicken Courgette & Orzo Pasta Broth