Large or small, speciality producers which submit to the rigours of Ideas to Dine For! are judged on product merit alone

The Ideas to Dine For! Awards are aimed at highlighting the very best in speciality food and visitors to Food Expo will have an opportunity to sample the winners.

Sponsored by Food From Britain, the competition’s expert judging panel this year included TV chef Rick Stein. Products were rated according to their own merits, irrespective of company size or reputation, with judges describing the rules as “levelling the playing field for producers large and small”.

With more than140 entries this year, competition has been fierce. Stein says: “The calibre of entries was exemplary. I found the whole experience fascinating, with lots of exciting foods that I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to try. And I have found many products I would stock in my own delicatessen.”

The winning products were those that best met the four key criteria of taste, added value, versatility and packaging and the judges had a tough task. However, the cream rose to the top and the panel was particularly pleased with the quality of this year’s winning products.

Food winners range from traditional Scottish beef, pre-packed salads, and organic damson yogurt to chilli ice cream, juniper gin, and jerk seasoning.

One small producer is Pinks Farm, whose Muscat Syrup was a firm favourite with the judges. Sue Osborne, farm proprietor, welcomes the extra attention the award will bring to the company’s business. “It is fabulous that a tiny producer like we are can hold its head up on a bigger stage,” she says. “Obviously people will see this award and want to know what makes our product so special.”

Ideas to Dine For! has also been a great boost to one of the most unusual products at Expo - Purbeck Ice Cream’s Chilli Red variety. Partner Hazel Hartle says the flavour began as a novelty product aimed at demonstrating new ideas but quickly gained interest from chefs who wanted to use it in all kinds of dishes, including seafood and steak.

RH Amar, distributor of the award-winning Walkerswood Caribbean sauces brand, sees the award as a big plus. Sam Deacon, product marketing manager, says: “The award for Walkerswood Traditional Jerk Seasoning, and the endorsement from Rick Stein will be a huge benefit for the brand.”

The three drinks categories - beverages, alcoholic and soft drinks - were also hotly contested. Union Coffee Roasters was the winner in the beverages category with its Guatemala Estate Santa Ana la Huerta brand. One judge described it as“ethically sourced without compromising on taste.”

The Organic Spirit Company bagged the alcoholic drinks gong with its Juniper Green Organic Gin, while Chegworth Valley Juices’ Apple & Rhubarb Juice was considered the best soft drink on show. All of these, as well as the other award winning products will be on display.

Stein was joined in the judging process, which took place at his Seafood School in Padstow, Cornwall, by Food & Drink Expo director Andrew Reed, former food chain advisor for the NFU Tessa Crago, editor of The Times Magazine Tony Turnbull, Restaurant editor Chris Maillard, senior civil servant at DEFRA Carlton Young, Food from Britain regional food and drink manager Jane Wakeling, Waitrose own label buyer Graham Cassie and William Reed editor-at-large Clive Beddall.