Since the recession started, it's been widely noted how stable the grocery industry has been.

A famed defensive stock, the industry was afforded a great deal of continuity in terms of senior leadership, and only retailers in long-term decline, notably Woolworths and Threshers, went under.

But there can be no doubting this year the seismic nature of the change we have seen in 2010. Although the weather has been a thorn in the side at both ends of the year, the changes of leadership at the top with new bosses at Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, M&S and not forgetting Aldi and Lidl are far more significant.

Similarly, while Kraft's acquisition of Cadbury in January is a once-in-a-generation deal, Greencore's merger with Northern Foods, and the incredible deal flow particularly towards the back end of the year show the manoeuvring is far from over.

Even the hung parliament, while creating uncertainty, shouldn't detract from the clarity we've been provided with in terms of the size of the cuts, and the scale of ambition in terms of the health agenda.


Our man of the year
Chubby, charming and chuffed
In the latest Waitrose TV ad, Delia Smith suggests champagne as an ideal ingredient for a jelly recipe. It's almost a parody of the gulf that exists right now between the 'haves' middle class, in a job, living in the South East and shopping at Waitrose; and the 'have nots'.

But it's impossible to begrudge Waitrose MD Mark Price his success not only because he is charming and disarmingly self-effacing at times, but because he's played a blinder. For a second year running, Waitrose has outperformed all comers. While former high-flyers Morrisons and Asda have suffered, the latest interim like-for-likes again show Waitrose ahead of the pack, up 3.9%.

Once it was apparent the recession was not going to be as bad as everyone feared helped by low interest rates and quantitative easing Waitrose under Price has never really looked back.

The catalyst was the launch of Waitrose Essential in the Spring of 2009 an 'entry-level' own-label range that was part a marketing sleight of hand, and part an intelligent range rescoping.

But Price was also working furiously with his team, behind the scenes, on a multitude of initiatives. Other new premium own-label ranges included Menu, Restaurant and Seriously, for consumers who had chosen to dine out a little less.

A more aggressive approach to buying, along with high compliance on targeted promotions under the leadership of commercial director Richard Hodgson (poached this autumn by Morrisons), also helped hugely. And tie-ups with Boots and Booths, a licensing deal with Duchy Originals, as well as new convenience and small-super formats, along with selective acquisitions from Somerfield and Woolworths, have seen total sales continue in double digits.

But it's the deal to sign up Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal as the twin faces of the supermarket chain that is arguably Price's greatest coup to date. The Delia effect was already well-known but she had never been linked to a specific supermarket; and whatever we think about Heston Blumenthal's rather unmagical recipes for Waitrose, the alchemy in terms of Waitrose sales is undeniable, as the price of those Christmas puds on eBay testifies. As a combo they're unbeatable.

The self-styled Chubby Grocer, certainly enjoys the finer things in life but he's not exactly sitting back. Next year Waitrose will open 10 full-size supermarkets, and up to 30 convenience stores, as he looks to double revenues to £10bn by 2020. Winner of three trophies at our Gold Awards in June, he said he was chuffed. He's earned it.

Our initiative of the year
The Grocer 33 moves online... and then some
Behind the scenes, we've been busy transforming The Grocer 33 this year. We are now monitoring, tracking and comparing the price of more products than the Office of National Statistics, giving us and you unparalleled insights on inflation, and we've added new promotion analytics to the weekly price comparison chart.

But that's just the start. Working with new supplier BrandView.co.uk, we've taken The Grocer 33 online, and are now able to offer a range of interactive tools, so you can check out specific promotion details, and monitor future price changes.

On availability, we've changed the scoring system to reward full baskets, because we think the industry's historic measure of availability doesn't reflect the importance to shoppers of missing out on a widely available item that is not stocked at a particular branch.

On service, too, we've made the scoring system more transparent, with a breakout of scores for store standards, shop floor service, checkout and queuing times, as well as availability.

Coming soon, you'll also be able to read comments posted by our army of mystery shoppers. Stay tuned!

Refinancing of the year

Uniq solution to pensions problem
Uniq's novel way of tackling its £436m pension shortfall involves handing over 90% of shares to the trustees of its own pension scheme. Analysts said shares could be valued at 70p if Uniq were rid of its pension liabilities, rather than 6.75p at the time of writing. If approved by the pensions regulator, others wanting to relinquish retirement liabilities may soon follow.

Sell-out of the year
Heston must share spoils with Marco
Who's the biggest sell-out: Heston Blumenthal for abandoning the culinary high road for the distinctly middle ground of a Waitrose ad campaign, or Marco 'No Prisoners' Pierre White for touting Bernard Matthews turkeys?

Blumenthal was arguably the bigger surprise. What was he thinking? And what was Waitrose for that matter? Why sign up the man famed for his molecular gastronomy and make him cook... chilli con carne? Even with the 'twist' (spiced butter whoppee doo) we're hardly talking snail porridge. No wonder the pug-faced one looks so uncomfortable.

Pierre White apparently feels no such shame. Having already endorsed Knorr, Glorious Soup and Walkers Crisps, he's now fronted a campaign for one of the most vilified brands of the past decade thanks to avian flu, "bird baseball" and the now-defunct Twizzler. "He is without question one of the great farmers of the past five decades," he said breezily of Matthews when challenged about the ad.

Succession of the year
Terry Leahy checks out Tesco-style
It was all change at the top in grocery this year, with new bosses appointed at M&S, Morrisons and Asda. But the best was saved for last.

Movers and shakers don't get bigger than Sir Terry Leahy. In just 14 years, El Tel tripled Tesco's profits to £3.4bn and transformed the supermarket into a global retail giant. So when he announced he was stepping down, in June, it was clearly a massive story.

But it wasn't just the enormity of his contribution though £778m was wiped off Tesco's value on news of his plans that singles the story out for special mention. It was also the way in which it was handled. The timing of the Tesco kingpin's decision to quit as CEO in June may have taken many by surprise, but nothing had been left to chance in the succession planning.

The plans were textbook and compare starkly with the messy, public fallouts following the other changes of leadership with international chief Philip Clarke appointed as his successor, and there were some big promotions for Tim Mason, logistics boss David Potts and Richard Brasher, who from the end of February will be the retailer's UK CEO.

Our books of the year
Booked at the top table
There were loads of great books for foodies this year. Our top picks are: 

Jamie's 30 Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver)
Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home (Nigella Lawson)
Plenty (Yotam Ottolenghi)
Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine (Rene Redzepi)
The French Menu Cookbook: The Food and Wine of France (Richard Olney)
Momofuku (David Chang and Peter Meehan)
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (Anthony Bourdain)
How I Cook (Skye Gyngell)
Recipes and Ramblings (Elisabeth Louard)
Meal Times Taste Better with Coca-Cola

Our scoop of the year
The return of food price inflation
After a commodity-fuelled spike in food price inflation at the start of the recession, the supermarkets assured customers and the government that food price inflation was largely in the past (though cocoa prices, in particular, continued to soar due to more systemic and fundamental issues).

But by April, we were already exclusively reporting that nut prices had gone up by as much as 76% year-on-year. And we've subsequently run countless stories on spiralling prices for mangoes, oats, rice, palm oil and soya. With UK animal feed prices surging, as silage reserves ran low, we also predicted that selling prices to dairy, poultry, beef and pig farmers would have to increase as much as 30% to cover the hikes.

But our biggest story of the year was to predict that Russia would ban wheat exports due to shortages sparked by wildfires and droughts that damaged this year's harvest a full week before Vladimir Putin took the decision in early August. The move by the world's third-largest wheat supplier sent global prices spiralling to a 23-month high. And our phones ran hot for weeks as the world's media rushed for comment.

Grudge match of the year
Gloves off in Nisa-Costcutter row
In October the industry's longest-running love/hate relationship hit a new low when Costcutter chairman Colin Graves resigned from the board of Nisa-Today's, claiming he'd been excluded from board meetings and Nisa had made moves to poach Costcutter's retailers. Nisa-Today's and Costcutter have a distribution agreement until 2014 and a new contract is currently on the table.

A tale of two flotations
How do you put a value on retail?
NewLook pulled its IPO this year, but two retailers got a float away. One was hugely undervalued (SuperDry, the hip clothing retailer, floated at £395m, and was recently showing a market cap of £1.3bn); while the other was a tad pricey. Ocado, initially on the block at an estimated £1.2bn, was forced to drop its price, and at one point was trading with a market cap of barely £600m.

Damp squib of the year
England's World Cup campaign
The build-up was big. The weather was great. Deals and distribution were all in place. But retailers and manufacturers praying for an England victory were to be disappointed. The cost of England's early exit to the industry was estimated at £300m? For Coca-Cola the final kick in the groin came two months later when Rooney was allegedly caught sleeping with prostitutes.

‘Out on a high’ award
Stuart comes out smelling of roses
Marc Bolland's timing looked as immaculate as his suits when he announced he was quitting Morrisons a year ago to join Marks & Spencer. Like-for-likes were cruising at 4.3%.

Conversely Sir Stuart Rose cut a crestfallen figure last November, with profits flat and like-for-like sales falling 0.9%. He even singled out arch-rival Mark Price for praise as he acknowledged the success of Waitrose.

One year on, however, and Rose can hold his head up high as he prepares to step down in January, after delivering a 5.4% increase in like-for-like sales, including a welcome return to growth on the food side.

Of course, Bolland can take some of the credit for the figures following his arrival in May. But his contribution in the first six months is surely marginal compared with the input of Rose the turnaround plan bears all the hallmarks of the ebullient outgoing chairman.

Indeed, the next set of like-for-likes are sure to be a lot more challenging for Bolland, with public sector job cuts, VAT hikes, and commodity price rises to contend with. Looks like Rose may have got his timing bang on.

Leak of the year
Co-operator spills the beans
All the noises coming from the Co-operative Group suggested it was taking the £1.6bn acquisition of Somerfield in its stride. That's until April, when one of its own decided to share the Co-op's secret with the world.

A self-styled "co-operator" revealed sales were down 12.2% year-on-year at the Somerfield stores the Co-op had taken on. And converted stores were performing worse. In October, Co-op food retail MD Tim Hurrell admitted sales were still down, but in contrast with the Morrisons Safeway acquisition, the society is still on course to report record profits this year, he promises.

Merger of the year
Vinnie teams up with the Irish mafia
Kraft's acquisition of Cadbury was the deal of the year, but it's been a long time since we saw a merger.

And the combination of Northern Foods and Greencore to form Essenta is an interesting one. Dubbed "a merger of equals", the November deal subject to approval will create Essenta, the UK's biggest chilled player, to be led by Greencore's highly regarded CEO Patrick Coveney.

A "convenient solution" in a sector plagued by excess capacity, the merger will deliver £40m in cost savings and also offers a solution to Northern's gargantuan pension black hole (liabilities stand at more than four times the company's value).

The deal is not to everyone's taste. Some suggest Northern shareholders would prefer cash and that Northern's Goodfella's frozen pizzas and Fox's Biscuits are trapped in the new, chilled-dominated Essenta. There's rumours that Vinnie, Fox's mafioso panda, will soon be switching 'Families' again with a long-awaited Fox's/Burton's tie-up on the cards.

Northern CEO Stefan Barden has already hotfooted it to wholesaler Brakes.

Odd couple of the year
P&H and Makro get all pally
No, not Heston and Delia. We're talking about the unlikely combination of Palmer & Harvey, the UK's biggest delivered wholesaler with a thriving customer base of indie retailers and no foodservice business; and Makro, a loss-making cash & carry serving the foodservice sector. Cross the two and you get PalMak, a buying alliance. But we still don't quite get it.

PR stunt of the year
Clegg and Tayto’s coalition of crisps
An octopus foresaw the success of Spain in the World Cup. And the general election? That was down to a pack of Tayto-owned Real Crisps. Passers-by were given a choice of politicrisps: a red bag for Gordon Brown, blue for David Cameron or yellow for Nick Clegg-branded crisps. Fittingly, there was nothing to divide the choices all were the same inside. And Nick won.

Copycat spat of the year
Diageo bares its teeth, again
Last year Sainsbury's felt the full force of Diageo's lawyers, in a case involving a copycat Pimm's drink. This week, after another long-running saga, it was the turn of Intercontinental Brands, in a dispute involving "extended passing off" over Vodkat. Diageo convinced the High Court that the 22% abv drink could be mistaken for real vodka. It will now be forced to change its name.

Achievement of the year
Chocolate cereals crack the NPM code
What is it they say about buses? After waiting years (three to be precise) for a chocolate cereal made for kids that can actually be advertised to kids, along comes a whole fleet.

First to get its head around the controversial Nutrient Profiling Model underpinning Ofcom's restrictions was Weetabix Chocolate, which launched in July having sailed through the NPM test. It didn't have the market to itself for very long, though. A month later, Kellogg's entered the fray with Coco Pops Choc 'N' Roll, which it said it wouldn't advertise to kids, even though it could. It also announced a major reformulation of the rest of its Coco Pops range, with the first revamped products to hit shelves early next year (although only one of these will fulfil the FSA's criteria).

The FSA will no doubt see the activity as proof the NPM works, but it should not assume demand for 'full-fat' cereals is about to wane. Sales of chocolate cereals such as Coco Pops have risen since 2007. And Kellogg's clearly thinks it's on to something with Krave, the sugar-laden chocolate cereal it launched in January. Consumers are likely to remain sweet on sugary cereals for some time yet.

Mixed message of the year
Clegg coughs up - but there’s a butt
Health secretary Andrew Lansley wants to nudge you towards making healthier lifestyle choices. Unless you're a smoker then you can expect a full-on shoulder barge. Lansley has declared war on the tobacco business, announcing plans last month to ban branding on fag packets to prevent young people from taking up the evil weed.

Meanwhile, on Desert Island Discs, his colleague Nick Clegg came out of the closet as a smoker, saying a stash of smokes would be his chosen luxury and joking that the stress of government is enough to turn him into a 20-a-day man.

What with student demos and the deficit, he'll soon be out-smoking Dot Cotton.

Surprise appointment
‘Who the f*** is Dalton Philips?’
It shouldn't have come as a shock, of course, because Morrisons picked Marc Bolland, a Dutch Heineken exec, as its CEO three years earlier, and that experiment was an unqualified success.

But industry reaction to news of the new Morrisons CEO was summed up by the sales director of one of the UK's leading fmcg suppliers. "My first thought was: who the fuck is Dalton Philips?"

Born in Ireland, Philips was COO of Canadian retailer Loblaw, but his mid-Atlantic drawl reflects a 20-year career in grocery including senior roles with Walmart in Germany and Brazil, as well as Woolworths in Australia.

And the sales director believes Philips is, in fact, an inspired choice. "When you google him his experience is obvious. The strength of Dalton is, he's a retailer. And he has international perspective, which can only help when you're in Bradford.

"Fair play to Morrisons. There were a lot of people on the market in the UK, but they actually went out and did their homework. And to back that up by bagging [Richard] Hodgson from Waitrose as the new commercial director potentially stepchanges Morrisons."

Chocfinger I
Greenpeace gives Kit Kat the finger
Some ads go for cute. Some go for funny. When Greenpeace wants to make a point, it goes for gross-out. The pressure group's viral campaign against rainforest deforestation to support palm oil use in fmcg featured an office worker biting into a Kit Kat only to find he was snacking on the severed digit of an orang-utan. Fair play or not, Nestlé has severed all ties with the supplier in question.

Chocfinger II
How do you ward off a hedge fund?
A big story this year has been food commodity speculation by hedge funds. None more than Tony 'Chocfinger' Ward's audacious £658m purchase of 241,000 tons of cocoa beans in July the largest trade in 14 years coinciding with a 30-year high. The deal may have had a bitter-sweet ending in mid-December his fund was reported to be selling its cocoa stockpile amid falling world prices.

Unlikely hero of the year
Chilling bear warms hearts
Birds Eye took a huge risk with its latest brand ambassador. The creepy-sounding polar bear puppet, voiced by Willem Dafoe, admonishes us from inside a freezer for not buying Birds Eye. But in a highly challenging category, the results have significantly raised awareness levels for the bear's "100%" message, and it took top prize at The Grocer's Gramia awards in October.

Price war of the year
Stores clash in battle of the bottles
There was plenty of crying over cheap if not spilt milk in 2010. The battle lines were drawn in July when Asda slashed the price of four pint bottles of the white stuff whole, semi-skimmed and skimmed from £1.53 to £1.25. 

The offensive was part of Asda's pledge to cut the price of core essentials, uttered in the same breath as a commitment to ditch booze sales below cost of duty and VAT. In following weeks, the rest of the big four and Waitrose waded in and matched Asda's price. In September, Robert Wiseman a major Tesco supplier issued a profits warning, though the dairy denied any link to Tesco's decision to slash its prices.

That didn't stop lobby group Farmers For Action targeting Tesco depots and the NFU teaming up with the WI to launch its Mission Milk campaign in October.

And, as Tony Blair understands all too well, the receiving end of the WI's ire is a bad place to be. Days after the ladies grabbed their handbags, Tesco raised the price of four pints by 30p. The rest bar Asda followed suit. Cue smug ads from Asda highlighting the milk price difference under the strapline 'Why Pay More?'

Craze of the year
Supers in a flap over iPhone apps
Retail went app-happy in 2010. Superstore-locator and mobile shopping app launches came as regularly as clockwork from the supers. Tesco unveiled its wine buff app allowing shoppers to get the lowdown on a given vino simply by taking an iPhone snap of a label and Sainsbury's and Nectar stormed to the top of Apple's lifestyle download chart in August with an app that offers punters deals based on past spending and allows them to collect bonus points.

With Visa saying it's close to a nationwide roll-out of technology that allows shoppers to pay by flashing their phones, we could soon be waving goodbye to our wallets.

Rest in peace
‘Bootiful’ Bernard dies aged 80
In 2010 the industry bade farewell to a number of figures that helped define food and drink for generations.

Perhaps best-known was Bernard Matthews, who died in November, 60 years after he bought his first turkeys. The 80-year-old left behind an empire that today rears more than seven million turkeys a year. The Norfolk farmer may be gone but his "bootiful" slogan first used in 1980 when Matthews appeared in his own ads lives on. It was resurrected this year for a new campaign.

Another legend was Theo Albrecht, the billionaire co-founder of German discount chain Aldi, who died in July, aged 88. He left behind an empire that racked up sales of 48.6bn in 2009 and was reportedly Germany's second-richest man after brother Karl.

In April the frozen food sector mourned the loss of Peter Clarke, the founder of Kent Frozen Foods. Clarke, a former president of the British Frozen Food Federation, had been active in the industry for 50 years.

And on New Year's Day, John Young, MD of McCain Foods GB, died following a battle with cancer. Young had been at the helm since 2005.

Promo of the year
Getting two free is the new bogof
Defra will be pleased. Bogof has, well, bogged off (down 25% 52w/e 30 November, Assosia). It probably didn't see the ascent of buy-one-get-TWO-free coming, however. We saw just 14 deals of this type in 2008, but by the end of November, Assosia had tracked a whopping 259 Bogtf deals, an increase of 1,750%. Morrisons leads the field, with 157 deals, but Tesco's a bit partial, with 66.

Worst TV programme
A basket case, and on C4 too
Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Rick Stein's Food of the Italian Opera, The (in)Edible Garden: all pale into insignificance beside the awfulness of Food: What goes in your basket? Fronted by Jay 'face for radio' Rayner, the strapline to this expensively uninformative tabloid drivel was 'Don't eat anything till you've watched this programme'. Best repeat it in the diet season, then.

Self-serving survey award
Asda scrapes the bottom of barrel
How do you create excitement around a new own-label toilet paper? According to Asda, you poll people on their wiping technique. In the YouGov research, permutations in wiping, scrunching, folding and preferred reading materials to take to the smallest room in the house continued for 593 dizzying words. The research failed to make a splash, though no one printed it.


2010 in a nutshell


January
With Arctic weather continuing well in to the New Year, the industry lost millions, but retailers were pushing through extra price hikes under cover of VAT's return to 17.5%. Mars announced a 15% reduction in sat fats from its choc bars. Kraft upped its bid to £12bn to secure its acquisition of Cadbury. And Dalton Philips was the surprise appointment as CEO of Morrisons.

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February
Asda was forced to defend its not-so 'national' fuel pricing policy after a Grocer investigation. The organic sector unveiled its multi-million pound strategy for rescuing sales. Ocado announced plans for a stock market flotation. Warburtons launched its first-ever snacks range ChippidyDooDaa and SnackaDoodle, and British Seafood Group was the first major administration of 2010.

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March
A code of conduct was launched for the sale of high-caffeine beverages. Waitrose signed up Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal as the twin faces of the supermarket. The FSA climbed down on front-of-pack labelling. But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley revealed plans to strip it of its nutrition brief.

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April
Election fever saw politicians on the campaign trail. Brown visited a Morrisons as well as Innocent's HQ, Cameron went to a Morrisons RDC, a Warburtons bakery and a Bestway depot, while Clegg toured an Asda in Oldham. Andy Bond stepped down as Asda president and CEO. Asco went bust after four months. Nut prices soared.

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May
A month for odd couples. Cameron and Clegg cosied up to flesh out the coalition while P&H and Makro set up buying alliance PalMak. In a busy month for Asda, chief marketing officer Darren Blackhurst quit after Andy Clarke was appointed CEO. It also acquired Netto and pledged to undercut its rivals by a penny with a new Price Guarantee scheme. A Co-op Group leak exposed poor sales in Somerfield conversions.

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June
Sir Terry Leahy named Phillip Clarke as his successor. Asda was crowned cheapest supermarket for the 13th year in a row at The Grocer Gold Awards. In Europe, MEPs voted against traffic-light labels but in favour of bizarre legislation that could stop several products being sold by numbers.

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July
Tales of binge drinking filled the papers with England's early exit from the World Cup and the coalition's plans to outlaw below-cost booze sales. We had plenty of sorrows to drown food inflation was on everyone's lips as animal feed wheat prices shot up and Greek olive oil producers hoarded stocks as a safer bet than cash. Ocado raised £200m through its flotation.

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August
We finally got a supermarket ombudsman. Or rather, the adjudicator and he won't actually show up until 2012. With news that meat from cloned cows had made its way into the food chain, The Grocer exposed how Defra had been warned about such occurrences in 2008. We also revealed that the OFT was investigating retailer promotional activities and Hershey was planning an assault on the UK after failing to get its hands on Cadbury.

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September
A busy month in own label. As new CEO Dalton Philips set out his vision for Morrisons, he promised an own-label overhaul as well as online shopping and c-store trials. Ocado launched a 1,000-strong range and Sainsbury's relaunched Taste the Difference. Asda also improved its own label. In Brussels, the EU was planning to force retailers to name own-label suppliers.

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October
Deals galore! Unilever kicked it all off with the £2.3bn purchase of Alberto Culver while PZ Cussons snapped up St Tropez for £62.5m. Findus MD Mark Escolme quit after just a year. Tesco and Premier Foods fell out as the retailer delisted 11 Hovis lines. Former M&S food boss Guy Farrant resurfaced as Booker's new MD of Cash & Carry.

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November
Prestat, the Queen's favourite chocolatier, ditched its organic lines, claiming consumers simply didn't want organic any more. Lidl angered animal rights activists with plans to sell reindeer steaks as a festive treat. Greencore and Northern Foods announced plans to merge under the name Essenta Foods. And Andrew Lansley incurred the wrath of the tobacco industry with shock plans to put cigarettes in plain packaging.

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December
As the nation was once again blanketed in snow, there were again tales of heroism from within the industry as suppliers, wholesalers and retailers battled to keep stores open. After upsetting tobacco manufacturers, Andrew Lansley finally got some love when the industry welcomed his new Responsibility Deal.

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