It was time to celebrate the most dynamic but anonymous sector in the food and drink industry at The Grocer's Own Label Excellence Awards 2007 on Tueday.

The Grocer initiated the awards last year to officially recognise, and promote, the value and quality of retailer-branded products. That we have added seven extra categories this year to provide for a 20% increase in entries shows that own-label craves the respect it now deserves, as it proves itself increasingly a trendsetter in terms of innovation and responsiveness to key market trends.

The 73 finalists were selected from 300 entries with help from the Cambridge Market Research group, which organised consumer panels to judge the products in terms of taste, appearance and packaging among other factors. The winning products were then decided by an expert judging panel consisting of food magazine editors, chefs and top industry officials at a second mammoth day of tasting and testing. The winners were announced by The Grocer's editor Adam Leyland and he praised the healthy state of the own-label industry.

"I believe the industry is in great shape. Own-label products are now often better than their branded rivals and you have led the way in terms of product reformulations," he told the audience of top-end buyers and suppliers.

A quarter of the 20 awards were won by Sainsbury's. Its premium Taste the Difference Flatbread, Brioche, English White Grape and Elderflower Pressé, British Singletons Parlick Fell Cheese and Meatballs all won in their categories.

Winterbotham Darby & Co supplied the brioche and Martin Barron, sales director, was delighted with his award.

"This represents an excellent piece of collaborative development between us and Sainsbury's. Own-label in the UK is now a very important category, and a key brand in its own right," said Barron.

Discount store Aldi won the Ambient Grocery category with its Strawberry Conserve while Morrisons scooped an award for its Free From Rich Fruit Cake Slices, designed for consumers with food allergies.

Morrisons and Tesco came joint second by winning four categories each. The judges found Morrisons' The Best Sticky Toffee Ice Cream, from Hill Station, to be the top frozen sweet. "This confirms the ability of Hill Station to produce high quality ice cream, with the judges comparing the product against the standards of top brands," said Tiffany Jenkins, Hill Station sales and marketing assistant.

Marks & Spencer, a pioneer of own-label in the 1970s, won a prize for its Organic Multiseed Loaf.

Donald McClymont, general manager of supplier Fletchers Bakeries, part of Northern Foods, expressed surprise at the lack of attention the own-label industry receives.

"The standards in own-label are fantastic and many products are unsung heroes while the press focuses on branded products," said McClymont.n


Waitrose's Kiln Roasted Salmon Terrine Kavli


Marks & Spencer's Organic Seed Loaf Northern Foods

bakery savoury

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Sweetflamed Red Pepper and Herb Flatbread La Fornaia

bakery sweet

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Brioche Winterbotham Darby & Co

ambient grocery

Aldi's Strawberry Conserve Beatrice of Bristol

cooking sauces

Tesco's Finest Tikka Masala Sauce Patak's Foods


Morrisons' The Best Chocolate Orange Pudding Farmhouse Fare

drinks - hot beverages

Morrisons' Ginger and Lime Flavour Infusion Tea Typhoo Tea

drinks - soft drinks

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference English White Grape and Elderflower Pressé Luscious Food & Drink

fresh produce

Tesco's Finest Piccolo Cherry Tomatoes Wight Salads Group

health and better for you

Morrisons' Free From Rich Fruit Cake Slices Bells of Lazonby

meat and poultry

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Meatballs Dunbia


Sainsbury's Taste the Difference British Singletons Parlick Fell Cheese Bridgehead


Tesco's Low Fat Fig and Date Yoghurt Valley Farm

chilled - fish

Waitrose's Mini Shellfish Selection Macrae Edinburgh

chilled - food

Waitrose's Green Thai Chicken Soup Mariner Foods

chilled - ready meals

Asda's Extra Special Chicken and Butternut Squash Pann Krisp

frozen savoury

Costco's Luxury Stuffed Turkey Lakeside Food Group

frozen - sweet

Morrisons The Best Sticky Toffee Ice Cream Hill Station

frozen - fish

Tesco's Finest Steam Fish Smoked Haddock Florentine Coldwater Seafood