"My biggest impression was just the sheer quality of the submissions in a period where there's been such an upheaval, with COVID and everything that's been going on," says Eaton, who is also chairman of New England Seafood and executive chairman of Butcher's Pet Care.
"I was just so impressed that people had taken the time to capture the really good things they are doing and make their submissions."
"It was also really great to get together with the other judges. We all enjoy trying to find the differences and the magic. It's a really uplifting experience to see so many good things that are being done in the industry."
'Fantastic bigger company entries'
Eaton highlights in particular the significant number of larger firms entering the awards, which are sponsored by Dawn Foods and Fowler Welch this year. "This is the second year I have chaired the judges. Last year we had probably some slightly better smaller company entries. This year we had some fantastic bigger company entries. We had some smaller businesses that were really early in their development and very exciting prospects for the future, but probably a little bit early to judge their progress just yet."
Many of the entries highlighted initiatives underway to address vital issues such as sustainability and environmental impact, plus 'tremendous examples of community work', supporting vulnerable individuals during the pandemic, Eaton says.
He outlines further trends brought to the forefront by entrants, as well as the importance of encouraging training and development within the industry in this video.
The 2021 finalists can be viewed on the official Food Manufacture Excellence Awards website, including the finalists for the Food Manufacture Business Leader of the Year. The winner of this award is chosen by online reader vote and nominations can be made via the awards website, which details more information on each person shortlisted.
This year's lineup is: Morten Toft Bech, founder, Meatless Farm; Lindsay Boswell, chief executive officer, FareShare; Kirsty Henshaw, founder, Kirsty's; Cassandra Stavrou, co-founder, Proper Snacks; Alex Whitehouse, chief executive officer Premier Foods; and Sarah Arrowsmith, chief executive, UK grocery, ABF.
Winners of the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards will be announced in an online ceremony to be held from 5pm to 6pm on Thursday 11 February. Watch this space for more teasers about the awards as the date approaches!