Own label’s power to innovate and punch above its weight was showcased at The Grocer’s annual Own Label Food & Drink Awards. Rob Brown reports

As David Cameron was naming the key figures in his coalition cabinet last week, the best in own-label food and drink were being crowned kings and queens of their fields.

More than 350 of the industry's leading lights a record turnout gathered at The Grocer's annual Own Label Food & Drink Awards to find out which of the 130-plus finalists at this year's event had won.

They were expecting a list of outstanding winners. And thanks to the careful deliberations of the 15-strong panel of judges, which included brand development experts, design gurus and members of The Grocer's team, as well as the input from consumers polled by Cambridge Market Research, they weren't disappointed.

The field was stronger than ever this year as was the level of innovation. "It's been highly encouraging to see the quality and quantity of new product development in this year's Own Label Food & Drink Awards," said Adam Leyland, The Grocer's editor and host of the event. "The awards demonstrate that outstanding innovation is alive and well in own label."

All the finalists in this year's awards, which were sponsored by PLMA and Benson Box, won the right to add The Grocer Own Label Awards logo to their products' packaging, an invaluable USP in the war for consumer loyalty. All entrants will also get a consumer report from Cambridge Market Research. Asda's suppliers left the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Chelsea Harbour with the largest haul of medals eight coveted golds and seven silvers. Sainsbury's was second, with seven golds and three silvers, while Aldi came third, picking up three golds and five silvers.

Their achievements are all the more remarkable considering the tough economic backdrop. Although it was well-placed to weather the recession as consumers tightened their belts, the sector has come under increasing pressure from leading brands' high-visibility promotions and ad campaigns. So how has own label prevailed?

With the awards ceremony bringing together key figures from both the supplier and retailer sides of the fence, the value of strong partnerships was highlighted by celebrity chef and guest speaker Paul ­Merrett. "It's in the interest of all of us to support all levels of food and production in this industry. Today is a small part of that," he said. "Dare I say it, we're a coalition."

Evolution and innovation are key, adds Asda product development director Gail Paddy. Own label accounts for about half of all sales at the retailer, and is bought by 92% of its customers. "Consistently evolving and driving quality in the range is hugely important to us and we have 3,000 new lines planned for 2010," she says. "Our five-year ambition is to be the clear number two in food and these awards demonstrate we are heading in the right direction."

For own-label food supplier Greencore, which had six products shortlisted and won a gold for its Tesco Rogan Josh Cooking Sauce and a silver for its Asda Chilli Bean Soup, close collaboration with customers is vital to its progression.

"Consumers look for value, but they also want great-tasting products that offer convenience, and this is what drives our product development agenda," says spokesman Michael Evans. "One of the consequences of the downturn has been consumers trading down from eating out and seeking 'premium', convenient meal solutions at home something that Greencore has benefited from. Tiering is essential. Good/better/best propositions offer consumers choice."

And judging by the diversity of this year's winners, choice is what they're getting. 

Bakery (savoury)
Gold Medal: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Multiseeded Loaf
Manufacturer: British Bakels
Consumer Panel Comments: "Crust was lovely and crunchy with a lovely nutty taste fluffy and soft more-ish; classy, simple packaging"
Experts' opinion: "Seeds are nice, taste from the seeds rather than the loaf"
Other finalists: Aldi Village Bakery Cheese Savoury Tear & Share Bread(silver medal); Asda Bakery Multigrain Bagels; Morrisons Best Caramelised Red Onion Chutney & Chilli Bruschetta; Netto Garlic & Coriander Naan Breads

Bakery (sweet)
Gold Medal: The Co-operative Bakery Lemon Meringue Muffins
Manufacturer: Speedibake
Consumer Panel Comments: "Zingy lovely gooey centre meringue sprinkles added a crunch far better than others"
Experts' opinion: "Nice contrast of flavours and textures original, distinctive, light, a very good muffin"
Other finalists: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Limited Edition Toffee & Pecan Cookies (silver medal); Aldi Continental Choice Authentic Belgian Waffles; Asda Extra Special Belgian Chocolate Filled Cookies; Morrisons Christmas Stollen

Gold Medal: Lidl Goody Special Muesli Fruit & Nut
Manufacturer: Not disclosed
Consumer Panel Comments: "Appealing pack; nice sugared fruit pieces; lots of nuts and seeds; great value for money; better than Alpen"
Experts' opinions: "Full of added value ingredients premium taste; so much going on in the bowl... classic, traditional"
Other finalists: Asda Extra Special Sicilian Lemon & Ginger Crunch (silver medal); Aldi Harvest Morn Benefit with Red Fruit; Sainsbury's Yogurt & Raspberry Crisp Cereal

Cheese (hard)
Gold Medal: Waitrose Cornish Quartz Cheddar
Manufacturer: Dairy Crest
Consumer Panel Comments: "Delicious; gets the gums tingling; brilliant aftertaste, lovely texture"
Experts' opinions: "Creamy and smooth packaging envelope is innovative; strong flavour"
Other Finalists: Asda English Cheddar Extra Mature (silver medal); Asda Extra Special Farmhouse Somerset Vintage Cheddar; Lidl Valley Spire Vintage Reserve Cheddar Cheese; The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Davidstow Extra Mature Cheddar

Cheese (speciality)
Gold Medal: Aldi Specially Selected Farmhouse Red Leicester
Manufacturer: North Downs Dairy
Consumer Panel Comments: "Great colour; mellow but with a nice tangy flavour; slightly crumbly; superb value"
Experts' opinions: "Good, smooth texture; nice flavour; excellent flavour, texture and aroma for the price point"
Other Finalists: Aldi The Cheese Emporium Belton Farm Wensleydale with Blueberries (silver medal); The Co-operative Group Truly Irresistible Parmesan Wedge (silver medal); Lidl Le Chêne d'Argent Camembert; Marks & Spencer Colston Bassett Stilton; The Co-operative Fountains Gold Cheddar with Cracked Black Pepper

Chilled (savoury)
Gold Medal: Asda Fresh Tastes Chicken & Spinach Sandwich with Salad
Manufacturer: Freshway Foods
Consumer Panel Comments: "A great concept; attractive; lots of colour makes it look more interesting; lovely moist filling"
Experts' opinions: "Really innovative; screams healthiness good packaging"
Other Finalists: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference British Pork Cocktail Sausages Wrapped in Butter Puff Pastry(silver medal); The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Ham, Mushroom and Mascarpone Pizza (silver medal); Tesco Finest Cheddar and Onion Flatbreads; Tesco Italian Garlic Bread Bites; Tesco To the Edge Pizza Nacho Beef

Chilled (sweet)
Gold Medal: Tesco Finest Restaurant Collection Caramelised Williams Pear & Hazelnut Frangipanes
Manufacturer: Bakkavör
Consumer Panel Comments: "A luxury product; well balanced; very moist; subtle almond taste"
Experts' opinions: "Good flavour and texture; something different; pear was firm and hazelnuts chewy and sweet"
Other Finalists: Tesco Toffee Apple Crunch (silver medal); Asda Chocolate Mousse Duo; Asda Extra Special Classic Baked New York Vanilla Cheesecake; Asda Jam Roly Poly and Custard; Morrisons The Best Sticky Toffee Pudding

God Medal: Aldi Café Bistro Chocolate & Hazelnut Wafers
Manufacturer: Storm UK
Consumer Panel Comments: "Excellent colour of chocolate; rich and tasty; lovely aftertaste; great value... love the packaging"
Experts' opinions: "Excellent packaging; very individual; nice hazelnut flavour and rich chocolate"
Other finalists: Lidl Sweet Desire Butter Fudge (silver medal); Aldi Café Bistro Dark Chocolate & Hazelnut Wafers; Sainsbury's Belgian Assorted Dark Chocolates; Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Brazilian Dark Chocolate with Peppermint

Cooking Sauces
Gold Medal: Tesco Rogan Josh Cooking Sauce
Manufacturer: Greencore Grocery
Consumer Panel Comments: "Really tasty good mix of flavours; Indian restaurant quality"
Experts' opinions: "Authentic; nice rounded flavour; excellent value"
Other Finalists: Aldi Specially Selected Dopiaza Sauce (silver medal); Marks & Spencer Pad Thai Noodle Paste(silver medal); Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Butter Chicken Sauce; Tesco Finest Hot Chilli Sauce

Gold Medal: Asda Extra Special Lemon Curd West Country Yoghurt
Manufacturer: Yeo Valley Farms
Consumer Panel Comments: "Lovely and creamy; very fresh and natural; lemon flavour was strong but not overpowering"
Experts' opinions: "Nice zest; real food, excellent value; thick texture very good"
Other Finalists: Tesco Christmas Really Thick Jamaican Rum & Raisin Ice Cream (silver medal); Aldi Brooklea Low Fat Bio-Yoghurt with Wholegrain Muesli; Aldi Optifit Probiotic Yoghurt Drink Liquid Breakfast; Tesco Low Fat Yoghurt; The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Channel Island Extra Thick Double Cream

Gold Medal: Asda Moroccan Style Houmous
Manufacturer: Zorba Foods
Consumer Panel Comments: "Sweet and spicy; liked the slightly curry kick; very unusual; really good, even though I don't normally like houmous"
Experts' opinions: "Nice texture; good spice flavour with hints of sweet diced fruit; nice 'Moorish' taste, sweet but also spicy"
Other Finalists: Asda Extra Special Sweet Root Coleslaw (silver medal); Lidl Meadowfresh Luxury Creamy Coleslaw; Morrisons The Best Salmon Pâté; Sainsbury's Duck & Orange Pâté with Orange Liqueur; Sainsbury's Smooth Chicken Liver Pâté

Delicatessen (meat)
Gold Medal: Asda Extra Special Wiltshire Cure Ham
Manufacturer: Parkham Foods
Consumer Panel Comments: "Looks fresh and appealing; moist without being wet; tastes like old-fashioned ham; posh-looking"
Experts' opinions:" Rich taste; meaty texture, not soft, flavour strong; authentic"
Other Finalists: Aldi Deli Continental French Torchon Ham (silver medal); Aldi Deli Continental Serrano Ham; Tesco Finest Wiltshire Cured Ham on the Bone

Gold Medal: The Co-operative Smoked Haddock Fishcakes
Manufacturer: Joseph Robertson
Consumer Panel Comments: "Good strong smoky flavour; melts in the mouth; lovely crispy crumb coating"
Experts' opinions: "Good fish pieces, good depth; good balanced flavour with tasty mustard"
Other Finalists: Asda Extra Special Applewood & Beech Smoked Scottish Salmon; Netto Trawler's Catch Smoked Kipper Fillets with Butter; The Co-operative Battered Norwegian Line Caught Cod Portions

Fresh Produce (fruit & veg)
Gold Medal: Asda Fresh Tastes Whole Pineapple
Manufacturer: Del Monte UK
Consumer Panel Comments: "Brilliant; idea convenient and no mess; ripe and just right for eating"
Experts' opinions: "Brings pineapple to the people; good value; good quality"
Other Finalists: Asda Fresh Tastes Deli Salad Kit (silver medal); Asda Fresh Tastes Spicy Chicken Cous Cous Salad; Sainsbury's Best of British Apples

Fresh Produce (potatoes)

Gold Medal: Asda Extra Special Buttery Marabel Potatoes
Manufacturer: Albert Bartlett
Consumer Panel Comments: "The colour of real potatoes; light and fluffy "
Experts' opinions: "Good packaging, lots of info; creamy flavour; generally even-sized"
Other Finalists: The Co-operative Corolle Potatoes (silver medal); Asda Extra Special Creamy Marilyn Potatoes; Asda Kestral Potatoes

Frozen (savoury)
Gold Medal: Asda Extra Special 100% Beef Homestyle Quarter Pounders Manufacturer: Silvercrest Foods Consumer Panel Comments: "Very meaty not at all greasy or fatty looks home-made" Experts' opinions: "Good value quality ingredients" Other Finalists: Asda Stonebaked Ciabatta Loaded Meat Feast(silver medal) Morrisons Onion Bhaji Dippers(silver medal) Morrisons Beef & Cheese Quarter Pounders

Frozen (sweet)
Gold Medal: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Devon Farmhouse Toffee & Honeycomb Dairy Ice Cream
Manufacturer: Stapleton
Consumer Panel Comments: "Lovely and creamy; plenty of toffee bits; better than Ben & Jerry's"
Experts' opinions: "Innovative; tasted lovely with the muscovado sugar; creamy"
Other Finalists: Budgens Toffee, Fudge & Pecan Dairy Ice Cream (silver medal); Iceland Party Strawberry Indulgence Gateau

Gold Medal: Aldi Grandessa Sour Cherry Preserve
Manufacturer: Stute & Beatrice of Bristol
Consumer Panel Comments: "Delicious; different flavour to usual jams; nice and firm; nice shaped jar"
Experts' opinions: "Great taste, not too sweet; great value; good taste and fruit content"
Other finalists: Asda Flame Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Meze (silver medal); Morrisons The Best Italian Cherry Tomatoes in Rich Tomato Juice (silver medal); Lidl Freshona Premium Cornichons; Lidl Maribel Fruits of the Forest; The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Fruit Chutney

Hot Beverages
Gold Medal: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Sundried Moshi Community Fairtrade Peaberry Coffee Beans
Manufacturer: Finlay Beverages
Consumer Panel Comments: "Exquisite smell; lovely tasting coffee; rich; sweet; classy pack"
Experts' opinions: "Nutty and sweet aroma; excellent refreshing taste"
Other Finalists: Lidl Fairglobe Fairtrade Teabags (silver medal); Morrisons Speciality Teas Rooibos & Honey Infusion; Tesco Finest Fairtrade Tea Bags

Meat (informal eating)

Gold Medal: Tesco Finest British Beef & Caramelised Red Onion Burgers
Manufacturer: Dawn Meats
Consumer Panel Comments: "Really tasty; expensive but worth it; peppery; nice and chunky"
Experts' opinions: "Excellent packaging; interesting new flavour; good quality of meat"
Other Finalists: Aldi Speciality Selected British Thick Cut Smoked Sweetcure Streaky Bacon Rashers (silver medal); Asda Extra Special Spicy Pork & Chorizo Burgers

Meat (joints)
Gold Medal: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference British Ultimate Outdoor Reared Dry Cured Unsmoked Gammon Joint
Manufacturer: Cranswick
Consumer Panel Comments: "A big piece of meat; really tasty; succulent; moist"
Experts' opinions: "Quality meat... juicy; attractive packaging; tasty crackling"
Other Finalists: Waitrose British Pork Porchetta Style Joint with Rosemary & Garlic (silver medal); Asda Extra Special 10 Day Matured Outdoor Bred Pork Belly Joint; Asda Smoked Wiltshire Gammon Joint; Sainsbury's British Mini Pork Belly Joints with Caramelised Apple & Shallot Stuffing; Tesco Finest Restaurant Collection Slow Cooked Lamb in Redcurrant & Port Jus

Ready Meals (fish and veg)
Gold Medal: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Vegetable Moussaka
Manufacturer: Oscar Mayer
Consumer Panel Comments: "Good-sized portions; good blend of flavours; gorgeous; creamy texture"
Experts' opinions: "Really good flavour and texture; fresh-tasting; the list and use of ingredients was good"
Other Finalists: Tesco Finest Indian Vegetable Thali (silver medal); Asda Extra Special Spinach & Ricotta Mezzaluna; Sainsbury's Indian King Prawn Masala

Ready Meals (meat)
Gold Medal: Asda Indian Chicken Kashmiri
Manufacturer: S&A Foods
Consumer Panel Comments: "Lovely aroma, made you want to try it; spicy, but not too hot; authentic"
Experts' opinions: "Balanced; sweet; fruity; nutty; good consistency"
Other Finalists: Lidl Trattoria Alfredo Lasagne Bolognese; Marks & Spencer The Cook Menu Filled Beef Roulades with Tomato Sauce; Morrisons Fresh Ideas Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Pasta

Rice, Noodles and Pasta
Gold Medal: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Slowdried Lumaconi
Manufacturer: Daybreak Foods
Consumer Panel Comments: "Kids would love this; you can get a lot of sauce inside the shells; clear packaging"
Experts' opinions: "Innovative appearance; good quality; fresh; packaging excellent"
Other Finalists: Sainsbury's Whole & White Penne (silver medal); Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Beef & Chianti Raviolini; Tesco Finest Restaurant Collection Roasted Pepper & Cream Cheese Pasta Tartlets

Gold Medal: Morrisons The Best Toffee Popcorn with Roasted Almonds & Hazelnuts
Manufacturer: Cornscape
Consumer Panel Comments: "Tasty; more-ish; can really taste the nuts; classy pack"
Experts' opinions: "Texture good; not too sweet; hazelnuts give product a good twist"
Other finalists: Marks & Spencer Tomato Salsa Flavoured Tortilla Chips (silver medal); Lidl Knights Selections Oven Roasted Chicken with Lemon & Thyme; Morrisons Eat Smart Sweet Thai Chilli Soy & Potato Snacks; Morrisons The Best Ginger & Choc Chunk Cookies

Soft Drinks
Gold Medal: Morrisons The Best Cloudy Apple Juice
Manufacturer: Refresco
Consumer Panel Comments: "Good balance of tart and sweet; distinctive flavour good, real colour"
Experts' opinions: "Natural earthy flavours; great value for money; lovely experience"
Other Finalists: Morrisons The Best Still Lemonade (silver medal); Aldi Rio d'Oro Juice'd Orange & Passion Fruit Juice Drink; Asda 100% Pure Pressed Red Grape, Strawberry and Kiwi Juice; Asda Apple & Berries 100% Sparkling Fruit Juices from Concentrate; Lidl Vitafit Multi-Vitamin 11 Fruchtsaft

Gold Medal: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Vine Ripened Tomato & Puy Lentil Soup
Manufacturer: Pasta Reale
Consumer Panel Comments: "Tasty and filling, tangy, had a slightly spicy kick"
Experts' opinions: "Good vine-ripened tomato flavour good mix of ingredients substantial"
Other Finalists: Asda Chilli Bean Soup (silver medal); Morrisons The Best Thai Chicken Soup; The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Three Bean & Italian Tomato Soup