The unheralded stars of food and drink took centre stage at The Grocer's Own Label Excellence Awards on Tuesday.
Now in their third year, the awards took place at London's Sheraton Park Lane hotel in front of a sell-out audience.
Designed to recognise the trendsetters and innovators that raise the bar of own-label quality and value, over 350 products entered the national competition, an increase of 28%.
With seven new categories and 115 finalists, the 2008 awards were the biggest to date on every level, said editor Adam Leyland, as he paid tribute to the dynamism of the own-label industry.
"Today's lunch is a celebration of the diversity - and resilience - of private label.
"Despite the challenges of the current economic slowdown, we've seen continuing moves to innovate to meet consumer demand," he told the audience of buyers, suppliers and industry leaders.
The Cambridge Market Research group conducted consumer panels to assess the 366 entrants, measuring taste, appearance, packaging and other factors. With the help of a panel of judges comprising chefs, food technologists, food developers, writers and editors, the entrants were whittled down to our 26 winners.
Sponsored by PLMA and Vestey Foods Group, the awards were evenly spread, with Budgens, Aldi and Marks & Spencer breaking the traditional stranglehold of the big five.
Budgens flew the flag for the independents, collecting awards for its Our Kitchen Hand-cooked Fire-roasted Jalapeno Flavour Crisps and Our Kitchen Oat, Cranberry & Almond Biscuits.
"We're over the moon," said Musgrave Retail Partners marketing director Jemima Tomlinson. "We're an independent retailer competing against the multiples and we're putting on a great show."
Aldi won two awards, with its Frosty's Luxury Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream and The Fishmonger Tilapia Fillets with Sweet Chilli-flavoured Butter victorious in the frozen sweet and frozen fish categories.
"We're delighted to receive these awards on behalf of the Aldi buying team who do a great job producing excellent products at fair prices," said Tony Baines, Aldi's managing director, buying.
Sainsbury's topped the table with five awards for its Taste the Difference range, including soup, speciality cheese and fresh produce.
Morrisons took four awards, including top cooking sauce for its The Best Green Chilli Masala Sauce, while Asda and Tesco each went home with three awards. Marks & Spencer was best in class in two categories, while Harrods' English Breakfast Loose Leaf Tea came up trumps in hot beverages.
"It's important for the industry to hold these awards so that people continue to recognise the quality of own label," said Dino Cantore, NPD director at La Fornaia, which supplies Marks & Spencer's winning Focaccia Selection in the savoury bakery category.n
AMBIENT GROCERY: SAVOURY
Asda Extra Special Skinless & Boneless Sardine Fillets with Olive Oil & Lemon
AMBIENT GROCERY: SWEET
Waitrose Fresh Fruit Orange Marmalade
Marks & Spencer Focaccia Selection
Asda Extra Special Mini Chocolate Cakes
CHILLED: INFORMAL EATING
Morrisons The Best Fresh Linguine
CHILLED: READY MEALS
Waitrose Tandoori Prawns Indian Meal
Asda Extra Special Two Smoked
Salmon Escalopes with Honey &
Ginger Cornish Butter
Morrisons The Best Green Chilli
Waitrose Seriously Fruity Low Fat Live Yogurt - Alphonso & Hayden Mango
DAIRY: SPECIALITY CHEESES
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Taleggio DOP
DAIRY: TRADITIONAL CHEESES
Tesco Afon Cleddau Extra Mature Cheddar
Tesco Finest Culatello
Tesco Finest Bread & Butter Pudding
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference
FROZEN FOOD: FISH
Aldi The Fishmonger Two Tilapia Fillets with Sweet Chilli-flavoured Butter
FROZEN FOOD: SAVOURY
Iceland Tandoori Chicken Tikka Masala
FROZEN FOOD: SWEET
Aldi Frosty's Luxury Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream
HEALTH & BETTER FOR YOU
Morrisons Free-from Caramel
Harrods No. 14 Exclusively Blended English Breakfast Loose Leaf Tea
MEAT & POULTRY: BURGERS & SAUSAGES
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference
Dry Cured Applewood Smoked Back Bacon Rashers
MEAT & POULTRY: LARGE / WHOLE
Morrisons Wood Valley Whole Chicken
MEAT & POULTRY: PREPARED
Marks & Spencer Cook! Lamb Leg Fillets with Ricotta, Parmesan & Thyme Crust
SNACKS & TREATS: SAVOURY
Budgens Our Kitchen Hand-cooked Fire-roasted Jalapeno Flavour Crisps
SNACKS & TREATS: SWEET
Budgens Our Kitchen Oat, Cranberry & Almond Biscuits
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice with Bits
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference San Marzano Tomato & Fresh Basil Soup