The Grocer Gold Awards ceremony 2010 was a gilt-edged affair, with the cream of British retail, wholesale and manufacturing descending on London’s Guildhall for an evening of celebration.

In front of a sell-out crowd, Waitrose was crowned Grocer of the Year in recognition of the retailer’s rebirth over the past year.

Sponsored by Reach, News International, Imperial Tobacco, and Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets, this year’s awards spanned 25 categories, including four new additions for 2010. And with the crowds being entertained by guest speaker Rory Bremner, the event is sure to have left a lasting impression.

Grocer of the Year
Waitrose leaves premium niche to enter mainstream
As the recession bit, instead of simply slashing prices, Waitrose managing director Mark Price went on the front foot with a series of eye-catching drives to win The Grocer of the Year.

The most important was the launch of Waitrose Essential, in March last year. A new range of basics, Essential included more than 500 new lines while also rebadging a number of existing ones.

The move was skilfully positioned to address price perception issues, while maintaining the reputation of Waitrose for quality and high ethical standards.

As a result, Essential lured an extra 400,000 customers a week into Waitrose stores, boosting like-for-like sales by 3.6% [52w/e 30 January 2010]. Essential Waitrose is now a £500m brand.

Supported by the launch of new super-premium products, such as Menu and Seriously, and the adoption of Duchy Originals, the vision of a grocer that could deliver both everyday and gourmet was brilliantly symbolised when Waitrose signed up both Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal in March.

As well as a big push into online, Waitrose is also growing its estate rapidly, with floorspace increasing by 9.2%. Snapping up former Somerfield and Woolies stores, it has opened 25 supermarkets and, more significant than its trials around forecourts and c-stores, has proved it can make small supers deliver. 

Britain's Favourite supermarket 2010
Tesco wins shopper hearts for the sixth time in a row
Tesco was named the nation's favourite supermarket for the sixth year in a row, but it beat nearest rival Asda by the narrowest of margins.

The final results revealed a gap between Tesco and Asda of just 0.5%, the closest ever.

"It was almost a hung parliament, though I don't think the two will ever form a coalition," said Justin Sargent, group managing director of Nielsen, in presenting the award.

Based on a sample of 4,534 consumers, the leading multiple grocery retailers were ranked on eight criteria, up from six last year, and the new judging methodology also saw the overall score weighted for the first time to more accurately reflect the importance to consumers of the eight criteria (read about the methodology here).

Lifting the crown for the sixth consecutive year, Tesco was voted top in terms of customer service, the strength of its promotions, product range and overall shopping experience.

But Asda was hot on Tesco's heels, after the Nielsen Attitudes to Retailers Survey ranked the supermarket best in terms of value for money and price.

Marks & Spencer topped the poll for quality of food, and The Co-operative Group was voted the most ethical of Britain's multiples.

Tesco first stole the title of Britain's favourite supermarket in 2005 after Asda won in 2003 and 2004. 

Food & Drink Brand of the Year (new award)
Ella's Kitchen takes 10% of market in just three years
The growth of the Ella's Kitchen children's food brand is a remarkable story that should inspire budding grocery entrepreneurs.

Just three years after launch, Ella's Kitchen now accounts for 10% of the wet babyfood market and, in the year ending 30 June 2009, sales of the organic puréed fruit and vegetable products hit £8m, a growth rate of 174%. By the end of this month, the company expects to be generating turnover of £16m.

The business launched three new products last year: Baby Brekkie, Pack'o'Snacks and stage three toddler foods.

It is also keen to establish itself as an expert in weaning, and in October launched the free Ella's Yummy Guide to Mealtime Fun!, which aims to help parents through the weaning process. 

Alchoholic Brand of the Year (new award)
Stellar sales show Stella's now one smooth operator
For a beer brand, sticking around in today's declining market is one thing, growing sales and generating new excitement is quite another.

The past year has been about cementing a stylish and environmentally friendly new image for the brand, which came top in last week's Britain's 100 Biggest Alcohol Brands in The Grocer thanks in no small part to the drive behind Stella 4.

The advertising campaign for the 4% brew, launched in July 2008, struck a retro note, with images of 1960s French Riviera life and the strapline, La Nouvelle Smooth, lending the brand a chic image.

According to AB InBev UK boss Stuart MacFarlane, Stella 4 has created a "halo" effect around the core brand and racked up sales of £64m all for itself. Stellar indeed.

Employer of the Year (new award)
Morrisons coaches staff to reflect core values in-store
Training has been a key focus for Morrisons in the past year. Preparing more fresh food in store (1,700 products) than any of its rivals and opening 43 new stores requiring 10,000 new staff members, Morrisons needs a dedicated, skilled workforce.

And that's what it's now got thanks to the Morrisons Academy, which provides staff training in core business skills including management, technical and IT aptitude and performance coaching.

The goal is to develop a workforce that reflects the company's core values and improves the experience of shoppers. And Morrisons says it's succeeding, with staff turnover having fallen from 38.3% to 22.5% in the past 12 months and 95% of its general managers being promoted internally.

Technology & Logistics Supplier of the Year (new award)
How Witron Engineering shook up Boots operation
How's this for a challenge: transform a supply chain feeding 2,600 stores into one of the most modern, efficient and competitive operations in British retailing in just three years with no disruptions to the existing supply chain.

That was the challenge laid down by Boots to German logistics specialist Witron Engineering in 2006. The project, completed last year, brought Boots' supply functions under the roof of one automated warehouse. Witron's technology improved shelf availability, reduced costs, freed up staff time and modernised the Boots working environment.

As a result, Boots' operational labour costs have been cut 40% since April 2009. Shelf availability was also improved, hitting an all-time high of 98% last Christmas. 

Independent Retail Chain of the Year
Park Garage Group drives growth by adapting offer
Forecourt stores operator Park Garage Group has picked up this award by being fleet of foot at adapting its offer to the turbulent market conditions.

As the popularity of round-pound deals continued to grow last year, it rolled out the Pound Zone range introduced in 2008 to a further 10 sites. 2009 also brought the launch of own-label range Park Café, as well as smaller store format Park & Shop Daily Essentials.

The chain's results were sweetened further by a tie-up with Tangerine Confectionery to introduce Kids Zones, which can now be found in 19 of its Park & Shop branded sites.

Such innovation has helped the company stay on course over the past year, and it reported sales growth of 4.6% to £34.9m [52w/e 30 June 2009].

The group's estate has also grown between July and September last year it opened five sites, boosting its number of stores to 90, and it completed 10 store refurbishments throughout 2009.

The group says 40% of its customers now see Park & Shop stores as destinations in their own right, rather than somewhere simply to buy fuel.

With the staff headcount at PGG now more than 700, it prides itself on encouraging its workers to climb through the ranks, with four sales staff progressing to become store managers last year.

"We've developed a sound profitable retail offer using talents from within our business," said the group in its awards entry.

Discounter of the Year
TJ Morris steps up as Aldi and co fall on hard times
Cut-price king TJ Morris has seized the Discounter of the Year throne as consumer interest in hard discounters such as Aldi, Lidl and Netto wanes.

TJ Morris, the Liverpool-based retailer behind Home Bargains, was streets ahead of the competition, turning in a 28% increase in profits and a 25% uplift in sales [52w/e 30 June 2009] as well as like-for-like growth of 8.5% [January to December 2009].

The Home Bargains estate spans 190 stores stretching from Scotland to Bucking­ham­­shire, and the company plans to enter Northern Ireland this year.

Thirty new stores were open­ed in 2009 including 11 in former Woolies sites creat­ing 1,200 new jobs.

And there's apparently no end to its ambition. The company's Liverpool DC will be able to serve up to 400 stores in the future thanks to a £35m extension. TJ Morris hopes to have 350 stores by 2013, with a turnover of more than £1bn a figure it originally aimed to reach by 2015.

Combining clearance lines with own-label goods and big-name brands, Home Bargains has a legion of followers on the web who are eager to share details of their latest finds with other fans.

And the business made headlines last year for its own online activity after it launched its Crime Busters scheme. The retailer is attempting to tackle shoplifting by posting CCTV images of suspected offenders on its website. 

Top Launch of the Year
Birds Eye offers the perfect seafood for the squeamish
UK consumers are a sensitive bunch: according to research, some have a tendency to avoid fish because they find it slimy and smelly and, well, fishy.

This is a bit of a problem when you are in the business of selling the stuff, which is why Birds Eye's development of Simply Bake to Perfection was such a canny move.

The five-strong range, launched last March, is sold in oven-ready pouches so squeamish shoppers don't have to get up close and personal with their seafood. Bird Eye says it also gives those used to dining out a touch of hassle-free luxury at home.

It's been a huge success. Early sales expectations for the range comprising pink salmon, haddock, pollock, basa and king prawns in a variety of sauces were blown out of the water and were doubled to £20m after just seven months. 

Branded Supplier of the Year
Cadbury brings ethics, fun and style to chocolate aisle
It's no wonder Kraft was so keen to get its hands on Cadbury given the quality and levels of its NPD and marketing.

Last summer, the first Fairtrade Cadbury Dairy Milk bars arrived on shelves, prompting an Africa-themed marketing campaign that highlighted Cadbury's 101st anniversary of working with Ghana's cocoa farmers.

Easter brought Cadbury Caramel Bunnies bars and the stylish Koko by Cadbury chocolate eggs. Judges were impressed with how the company reduced the packaging on its larger eggs by 35% and removed plastic as part of its Purple Goes Green sustainabilty programme.

The panel also rated Cadbury's new products for this summer, which include Wispa Duo and Crunchie Rocks sharing bags.

Own-Label Supplier of the Year
Kerry takes Gold following chilled ready meal success
Kerry has breathed fresh life into own-label food in the past year, helping to reinvigorate the ethnic ready meal market.

Among the innovations the Irish food giant has unleashed on the chilled aisles of late is Tesco's range of Chinese food, endorsed by celebrity chef Ken Hom.

Kerry says the range has helped to renew interest in the faltering take-home Chinese food market by associating the offerings with authentic restaurant-quality food.

As if that were not enough to put Kerry in line for a Gold, last June it launched its City Kitchen range in 17 London Tesco Express stores. This tertiary brand aimed at on­-the-go professionals has challenged the perception of ready meals being intrinsically unhealthy and has since been rolled out further across the Tesco estate.

Own-Label Range of the Year
Essential range broadens the appeal of Waitrose
Now here's essential viewing for retail industry watchers. Since its launch in March 2009 under the strapline "The quality you'd expect from Waitrose, at prices you wouldn't", the Essential Waitrose range has become a £500m label and broadened the appeal of the once resolutely upmarket retailer.

Essential has helped Waitrose emerge from the recession as the country's strongest multiple, in terms of like-for-like sales growth, with the retailer reporting a 3.6% hike [52w/e 30 January 2010].

The supermarket says the impact on consumer perception of the Waitrose brand is as significant as the sales driven by the range. Research commissioned by Waitrose has shown 69% of shoppers feel "a little or much better about Waitrose" since the launch.

Wholesaler of the Year
Sustained growth steers Booker to Golds success
Wholesale behemoth Booker now boasts a turnover of £3.4bn and a client list of 72,000 independent retailers. But it wasn't its size that caught the panel's eye this year, though it was its tight financial control and widening product range.

In the 12 months to 26 March it went from being £24.9m in the red to having £7m in the bank a turnaround all the more impressive when you consider that four years ago, when CEO Charles Wilson took over Booker's helm, net debt stood at £361m. Pre-tax profits, meanwhile, have increased 21% to £57.2m on sales up 6.5%.

Booker's Euro Shopper range of discount goods, launched in July 2007, is generating annual sales of more than £60m, offering a minimum retailer margin of 30%. Last year Booker launched its Retail Best Sellers, a line-up of more than 500 products that represents 7% of the wholesaler's range but 51% of its sales to c-stores.

In January Booker lowered wholesale prices of Kingsmill Everyday Bread to 65p a loaf and all milk variants to 85p for two litres. This 22% price cut on both products will remain until the end of September.

Booker has also led the way online, with average weekly internet sales up to £7.5m, from £6m last year.

And the company is eyeing overseas markets. With its first depot in India now up and running, Booker has big plans for the sub-continent and is hoping to open 18 more in the next three years.

Specialist Wholesaler of the Year
Bread Factory mixes scale with the personal touch
Wholesale artisan baker The Bread Factory has seen its fortunes rise recently thanks in no small part to Gail's, its chain of retail outlets.

The first Gail's bakery opened on Hampstead High Street in 2005 and the chain has since been in steady growth across the capital, with a sixth outlet opening in Chiswick last month.

The baker says it is benefiting from its growing buying power without compromising the craft of breadmaking.

Staff bake fresh batches twice daily and strive to develop fresh product ranges tailored to the needs of individual customers.

The company developed several new products in 2009, including Norwegian-style and mixed olive breads, an energy-boosting seeded cracker and a sour cherry loaf. 

Exporter of the Year
Ramsden International breaks into new markets
Ramsden International's response to the downturn has been to break into new markets and cement its existing business.

And the strategy has paid off its customer retention rate is 88% and turnover rose 35% in the year to 31 January, to £37.4m.

The exporter, formerly known as Nisa International, has certainly notched up the miles entering new markets such as Indonesia, Armenia and Bolivia. Sales in the Middle East have climbed 120% to £4.1m and even in the mature French market it has turned in a 33% hike in business to just over £2m.

While rivals battened down the hatches during the recession, Ramsden opened a new reprocessing facility last March to increase efficiency and improve product quality.

Store Manager of the Year
Sterling efforts win Ross the top store boss award
The man at the helm of Sainsbury's Stirling branch took the title of Store Manager of the Year after one of the Golds' fiercest contests.

Simon Ross triumphed after a gruelling interview process in which he showed how attention to availability, staff training, engagement with the local community and an entrepreneurial spirit could overcome competition from nearby supermarkets more suited to the area.

"This award is for my staff as much as it is for me," he said.

In the past year staff turnover fell from 37% to 27%, training commitment increased and absences were cut, saving the store £10,000. Last year Ross smashed his sales budget by £1m, with a 4% boost in weekly like-for-like sales. Footfall increased from 32,000 customers a week to 35,000. A 99p students basics pack is one of the initiatives introduced by Ross, and it is set for a wider roll-out within Sainsbury's.

"Just one point separated the winner from the runner up," said judge Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer.

"The standards displayed by all the finalists were incredibly high. But Simon won thanks to his compelling, almost raw passion, his infectious enthusiasm, and his willing­ness to take on head office to meet the needs of his store, his shoppers and his staff."

Store Manager's Judgement Day
A stiff upper lip was one requirement for the finalists as they were grilled by our panel of judges. They also needed commitment and passion.

Each finalist was given 20 minutes to convince our dragons: Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC; Guy McCracken, former CEO of food retail at The Co-operative Group; John von Spreckelsen of Merchant Equity Partners; Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer; and Lorraine Hendle, executive director, grocery, William Reed Business Media why they should win.

"It was an agonisingly close decision," said Leyland. 

Runner-up: Feroz Patel, Asda, Hulme
Finalist: Marc Smith, Tesco Extra, Newcastle upon Tyne
Finalist: Peter Thorogood, Morrisons, Horndean
Finalist: Chris Blows, Waitrose, Salisbury

The Grocer 33 Award: Price
Asda is crowned cheapest supermarket for 13th time
No rivals even came close to threatening Asda's reign as cheapest supermarket. After renewing its vows to Every Day Low Prices, Asda claimed its 13th victory in the award, with a 33-item basket of goods costing £50.71 on average £1.30 less than second-placed Tesco.

Asda was cheapest on 43 weeks out of 50, while Tesco had the cheapest basket on four weeks and Morrisons on three. Neither Sainsbury's nor Waitrose recorded the cheapest basket on a single occasion.

Asda's victory was accompanied by a 21.6% hike in promotions, according to promotion tracker Assosia, but it has recently reined in its multibuys to focus on EDLP. The retailer blamed an over-reliance on promotions for a fall in market share over Christmas and the spring.

Tesco has closed the price gap this year: on average, shopping at Tesco cost £1.30 more than at Asda versus £1.84 the previous year.

After taking second place last year, Morrisons dropped to third despite a 24.4% increase in overall promotions. It came out £1.94 more expensive, on average, compared with £1.34 in 2009.

At Sainsbury's, a typical basket was £2.88 more expensive than Asda, versus £2.91 in 2009.

Shopping at Waitrose resulted in paying a £10.64 premium over Asda  despite the launch of its Essential range of lower-priced goods with the gap widening by £1.13 from last year's £9.51. 

The Grocer 33 Awards: Availability
In a tight battle, Asda now plentiful as well as cheap
The battle for best availability could not have been tighter. Of the 1,650 items The Grocer sent its mystery shoppers to buy, just two separated Asda from second-placed Tesco.

Asda will be especially pleased to win this time after coming fourth last year. In spite of the poor weather it blamed for a disappointing Christmas, Asda improved availability by 1.09 percentage points to 97.32%.

The biggest improvement was at Tesco, however. Bottom last year, it boosted availability by 1.17 points to come second at 97.20%. Morrisons, last year's winner, dropped to fourth after availability slipped 0.89 points to 96.75%.

Over the year it had nine more out-of-stocks than Asda. Sainsbury's availability worsened by 0.71 percentage points to 96.81%. Waitrose came last with 96.1% and 19 more out-of-stocks than Asda.

The Grocer 33 Awards: Service
Waitrose surges in second half and speeds checkout
At the pre-Christmas half-year review, Asda was out in front in service, with seven of its stores winning The Grocer's store manager of the week award while Waitrose was tied with Tesco in second place, with six victories.
Waitrose surged ahead in 2010, with 14 wins to Asda's 12 over the full 50 weeks. Five of Waitrose's eight wins in 2010 came after 11 March, when the John Lewis Partnership awarded staff a bonus worth 15% of their salary following a profits rise.

A coincidence? Possibly not. But Waitrose, despite an increase in custom, has worked wonders with queue times. It was the only store to break five minutes at the checkout, as queueing and scanning took an average four minutes and 27 seconds, an improvement on the five minutes and 10 seconds recorded six months ago. 

Green Retailer of the Year
The Co-op Group sets eco benchmark for retailers
The Co-operative Group has always been fêted for its ethical stance, but over the past few years it has upped the ante on environmental issues.

And it is the massive strides it has made in reducing its carbon emissions through energy efficiency and its use of renewable energy that have helped it become our Green Retailer of the Year.

Since 2005, more than 98% of the electricity supplied to the group's sites has been obtained from wind and hydro-power exclusively, making it one of the largest purchasers of green electricity in the world.

Significant progress has also been made in waste reduction. Figures show the waste generated by The Co-op Group's operations was slashed by 25% between 2006 and 2009. Waste sent to landfill from its operations was also cut by a quarter.

All The Co-operative brand products containing fish are produced only from responsible sources, with strict criteria to reduce problems such as by-catch and sourcing from over-exploited stocks. The group was also the first retailer to convert its entire own-brand household paper range to Forest Stewardship Council-certified.

And, in January 2009, it launched Plan Bee, a campaign to help reverse the decline in the UK bee population, pledging to provide £310,000 to fund research into the mysterious collapse of bee populations across the globe.

Online Retailer of the Year
Ambitious Ocado wins its fourth Gold in six years
Ocado has been blazing a trail through UK grocery retail since its launch in 2002. And this year, the country's only exclusively online grocery retailer has won out for the fourth time since 2004.

The retailer has come a long way since its first week of trading in January 2002, when Ocado made just 172 deliveries. In May it passed the milestone of logging 100,000 orders in a week.

It has also been a rising star in the north, reporting year-on-year growth at its Leeds and Manchester operations of 94% and 42% respectively, pouring cold water on the common perception that Ocado is an 'M25 only' phenomenon.

The growth in orders has mirrored an increasing product range, which has been boosted from 14,000 lines a year ago to about 21,000 today. A wider food and drink range joined new toy, gift, florist and newsagent lines. Non-food has grown with the launch of gardening and barbecue products, glassware and clothing.

In the autumn, Ocado introduced Sunday deliveries and became the first retailer to offer over-the-counter deli products online. From the comfort of their homes, shoppers can browse more than 85 items from Aberdeen Angus brisket to Dover sole, and specify the size and style of preparation of their choice.

It has also opened two new RDCs, upping the number of vans serving its existing geography by 12%.

Green Wholesaler of the Year
Booker bags the Gold for range of recycling schemes
Booker took the gong for green wholesaler after launching a host of eco-minded initiatives in the past year.

Not least, Booker collected more than 1.5 million litres of used cooking oil from its catering customers and converted it into biofuel.

This is used to generate 40% of the electricity needed to power the company's chilled warehouse in Hatfield. The warehouse has been fitted with energy-saving lighting and improved door seals that have cut power consumption by 60%.

Booker is also collaborating with Alara Wholefoods to develop a ground-breaking community anaerobic digester in King's Cross. The system will take organic waste from businesses and homes to produce renewable energy and fertiliser for local food-growing projects.

Green Supplier of the Year
Wiseman has designs on greenest dairy production
Robert Wiseman Dairies is ahead of the herd when it comes to the environment. Its Bridgwater dairy in Somerset, which is capable of producing 500 million litres of milk per annum, is claimed to be the most environmentally friendly dairy in the world.

The site may represent the largest-single investment in the British dairy industry to date, but its environmental footprint is positively dainty. As well as harvesting rainwater, it has its own on-site water treatment plant that recycles waste back to bathing-water standard so it can be used for vehicle washing and to irrigate the local cricket pitch.

The company slashed the amount of waste it generated in 2009 by 19% and has a vision of ultimately sending no waste to landfill.

Consumer Initiative of the Year
Kraft spreads the word of cooking with Philadelphia
The idea was simple, the ambition grand: to widen the appeal of Philadelphia beyond that of a mere toast-topper.
With 80% of consumers spreading Philadelphia on bread, bagels or crackers, brand owner Kraft Foods wanted shoppers to broaden their horizons and add it to their recipes as an ingredient in its own right.

In just six weeks, Kraft says members of the public were given 36 million opportunities to see a new Philadelphia recipe, either through TV spots, magazine ads or an online TV show that attracted one million unique viewers. The campaign drove a 242% increase in volume sales, claims Kraft, with the adverts achieving a recognition peak of 61%. Sales of its Philadelphia Flavours variant doubled in the last three months of 2009, it adds.

Business Initiative of the Year
Boots raises supply chain accuracy and efficiency
It takes guts for a national retailer to restructure its supply chain through the busiest trading period of the year.

But that's exactly what Boots did in 2009, transferring 10,000 items more than half its range to a new £70m automated warehouse, developed with German logistics specialist Witron.

With capacity to despatch 100,000 crates a day, the Nottingham centre is one of the world's largest automated crate-picking operations.

Boots says the initiative, which saw 18 regional depots closed down, has cut stock replenishment times, with 97% of stock now arriving in stores at the agreed time.

Not bad at all, considering the project was completed without supply being disrupted during the hectic Christmas period.