The organiser of the Great Taste Awards - set up to showcase the best of the UK’s fine foods including bread and cakes - has taken the bold step of going toe-to-toe with supermarkets over premium labels, such as Tesco Finest and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference, which he claims may not always reflect top-end food quality for consumers.

Claims like ’hand-finished’ on cake packaging should be challenged where the cakes are mass-produced, argues Bob Farrand, chairman of the Guild of Fine Food. "We should be appealing to those people who understand that the supermarket super-premium lines may not always have the credibility that their larger marketing budgets might suggest," he said at the launch of the Awards’ judging for 2007.

While the supermarket premium lines continue to prove hugely successful with consumers, Farrand is hoping to establish the Great Taste badge as a rival benchmark for premium foods in retail. The grading system of the 10-year-old awards has been overhauled, ditching the gold, silver and bronze of old in favour of a one-, two- and three-star Michelin-style accolade. The brand identity has been redesigned to be more packaging-focused and to make it easier to pick out on shelf. And the website has been developed to showcase Great Taste products and retailers, while a roadshow format will be rolled out to give consumers the chance to taste goods for themselves.

"The awards are extremely well-known within our trade but our research clearly shows us that the consumer remains largely unaware of what the awards are," admits Farrand. But the Guild has opened a facility and kitchen in Wincanton, Somerset, which will allow it to test more products and take the awards on to the next level.

"This gives us the foundation to begin a dialogue with the consumer," he says. "We’re taking steps to build our consumer brand. We don’t just want to target affluent London types who shop in delis. We’re keen to reach all those people we’ve identified are sensitive to air miles, those who seek out traceability and provenance and those who understand and enjoy seasonality," he says.

The annual Great Taste Awards is claimed to be the UK’s largest independent evaluation for fine food and drink. Each year, over 4,500 foods are individually blind tasted by three separate teams of experts before the top awards are made. One of the biggest categories is cake, while bread was added as a class last year. Judges this year began accepting bake-off products for the first time.

amazing breads

"Some of the breads that we’re now receiving are just amazing," says Farrand. "But the bread must be available beyond the baker that made it. Bake-off will become a big class over the next few years because of that." There is a boom in artisan-style breads sold in delis and farm shops, he adds. Meanwhile, cake is already established as one of the biggest categories, he states. "Baking is alive and well in this country. There is a market opening up for small regional food producers to make absolutely exquisite cakes."

Accolade winners can display the badge for two years on point of sale and packaging. Judging for this year, which was brought forward two months, is now under way and the ’Supreme Champion’ will be announced at a ceremony in September. n