Supermarket stores and product development teams across Britain are this week getting to grips with the detailed entry packs that they have to submit to compete in this year's SuperMeat Awards. The Journal-organised Awards are widely recognised as the country's top accolade for stores and their suppliers.
The comprehensive submission and judging process takes the best part of six months to complete with meat department managers and staff answering questions designed to give judges an overview of how a store trades throughout the year, what goals it has set in terms of improved trading and the way it interacts with suppliers and the local community it serves. Most stores go beyond answering the basic range of questions asked to compile a comprehensive portfolio of activities complete with photographs.
The packs are judged and the visits arranged to the stores that enter the best ones. From these stores worthy of being featured in the final are selected. Further work is then undertaken to decide regional winners and the best store overall.
Meanwhile store product developers and manufacturers enter a range of products that are tried and tested against a range of strict judging criteria.
As well as judging red meat the Awards also judge poultry and fish departments and products. This expanded area of judging was included from the second year of the SuperMeat Awards after specific requests from stores and product development teams.
The Red Meat Industry Forum also uses the Awards as the platform to announce the company or organisation judged the best to have made efficiencies in managing the supply chain. Stores and products are both assessed by trade judges and ladies from the Women's Institute. Professional chefs help out with the product judging too.
The whole process culminates in an 'Oscars-style' celebration final at London's Hilton Hotel before a trade audience of more than 500 guests representing all sectors of the supply chain.
A number of significant changes have been made to this year's event. The winning store will be declared Meat, Poultry and Fish Retailer of the Year. In the products section of the Awards more emphasis will be placed on fresh meat products as well as judged products with some added value. And to ensure greater consistency of store judging a chairman of judges will be appointed to co-ordinate store visits.
Last year a victorious Asda team from Morriston, Swansea celebrated being named Best Store in the SuperMeat Awards. The team from the six-year old, 64,000 sq ft, store first beat off strong opposition to win the Best Welsh Store Award then defeated five other superb stores from around Britain to carry off the main title.
Also celebrating are the product development teams at Sainsbury's and Oscar Mayer for the Best Product, Beef cooked in Ale with Dumplings which had earlier also been named the Best Ready Meal. In a new category the Red Meat Industry Forum named Devon company Lloyd Maunder as the winner of its inaugural Supply Chain Excellence Award.
In the product categories Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury's each won two Awards while Asda and Somerfield won one each. Oscar Mayer was the only manufacturer to win two Awards - for Lamb and Ready Meals - while Dalehead Foods, Grampian Country Food Group, Bighams, Uniq Prepared Foods, Walkers Midshire Foods, and Young's Bluecrest each picked up one Award.
In the stores category Asda won three Awards, Somerfield two and Tesco one. Sainsbury's Newton Abbot store in Devon won the Best Meat Serve-over Award with an entry using the skills and name of independent butcher Steve Turton. The Best Fish Serve-over went to Asda in Stafford.
Among the trends noted in supermarket products was the increasing further development work being done on turning lower value meat cuts into highly desirable, added value products. A greater range of natural ingredients is also being found in many products while recipes from increasingly far-flung parts of the world are finding their way onto supermarket shelves.
On the store side computerisation was found to be playing an increasingly sophisticated role in stock control and the planning of many aspects of store activity. Judges were also impressed with the range of out-of-store activities. An increasing commitment by individual stores to keep in touch with local suppliers was also noted.
Journal editor, Fred A'Court, said: "The SuperMeat Awards continue to be an excellent barometer of how efficiently and effectively the various stores groups are trading and interacting with their local communities. Interest in this year's Awards is running at a very high level. We're all looking forward to seeing the entries flood in. While, superficially, one supermarket may look much like another, nothing could be further from the truth. The enthusiasm and commitment of the teams involved at store and product level see to that."
Top celebrities have bringing style and entertainment to the SuperMeat Awards since their inception. With more than 500 trade guests, it can be a tough job for the presenter to make things run like clockwork. Here are the well-known personalities who have fronted the evening:
1999 - Angela Rippon
2000 - Bob Monkhouse
2001 - Angus Deayton
2002 - Clive Anderson
2003 - Ruby Wax
2004 - Gordon Ramsay
2005 - Jimmy Carr