Charlie Bigham's comes top in Food Manufacture Excellence Awards

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Food Manufacture Excellence Awards winners celebrate their success
Food Manufacture Excellence Awards winners celebrate their success

Related tags Meat & Seafood Bakery Fresh produce Ambient Drinks Supply chain Ingredients & nutrition frozen vegan Dairy

Upmarket chilled meals manufacturer Charlie Bigham's won the top trophy at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards last night (17 March).

To be eligible for the overall award, the recipient has to be a winner of one of the main category awards as well. In this case, Charlie Bigham's also claimed the title of Chilled, Fresh and Seafood Manufacturing Company of the Year.

A total of 22 winners and highly commended entrants were announced from the ranks of finalists across at a fun-packed black-tie dinner at the London's Hilton Bankside Hotel, followed by a DJ set and casino. The night was hosted by Cherry Healey, co-presenter with Greg Wallace of BBC2's Inside the Factory​.

A certified B-Corp company, Charlie Bigham's has scrutinised every area of its business for environmental improvements, from water and energy use to packaging. In its entry, the company showed strong team engagement in quality reviews and a keenness to innovate and explore a range of processing techniques to extend shelf-life, plus investment in its Quarry Kitchen NPD hub.

"This entry ticks all the boxes: customer, quality and skills, with environment and efficiency initiatives and continued focus on developing the business through investment and innovation,"​ one judge said.

Menzies director Charlotte Langdon

Delivering her speech on the night, Menzies director Charlotte Langdon said: "This is Menzies's first year as a headline sponsor and it is a real privilege to be involved in such a prestigious occasion. We were incredibly honoured to be a part of the judging process. Across the 15 award categories we have tonight, we have received a record number of entries and the quality and calibre has been exceptional.

"By celebrating all your hard work and strong commitment to the industry this evening I think that the food manufacturing companies here tonight have plenty to feel proud about. With – hopefully – many more positive times on the horizon and with so many opportunities for food manufacturers to take advantage of - I’m sure that through your perseverance, innovation and talent, you and your businesses will continue to prosper."

The judges, who collectively boast more than 150 years of industry knowledge and experience, were expertly chaired by Geoff Eaton, chairman of Butcher's Pet Care.

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Charlie Bigham's
Charlie Bigham's won the overall award and also won Chilled, Fresh and Dairy Manufacturing Company of the Year
Award Winners

Food Manufacture Company of The Year: Charlie Bigham's

Judges Special Award: Modern Baker

Carving out a niche for itself in the field of healthy eating, Oxford-based Modern Baker has delivered significant innovation in this area in the form of products such as its Superloaf, the launch of which followed five years of extensive research and development. In summary, one judge said: “Superloaf is a great innovation supporting customers towards healthy eating.”​ The product could replace less healthy staples without compromising on taste, they added. 

Business Leader of The Year (chosen by an online reader poll from eight candidates selected by the editorial team with input from the judges): Ash Amirahmadi, managing director (MD), Arla Foods UK​.

Since Amirahmadi became MD of Arla Foods UK in 2018, it has kept growing UK sales to in excess of £2bn, making the cooperative Britain’s leading dairy company. He is the newly elected chair of Dairy UK and chair of IGD’s board of trustees. He sits on the Government’s Food Resilience Forum, set up in response to the pandemic.

Main Category Awards

Ambient Manufacturing Company of the Year: Nim's Fruit Crisps

A previous winner of the small and medium-sized enterprise award for innovation in the 2016 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards, Nim’s is a classic example of a business that has kept growing through diversification. Committed to UK-sourced fruit and vegetables for its dried fruit crisps, the company launched its own range of edible teas and infusions in 2019.

Last year, it debuted a range of air-dried ingredients for use at home and in the foodservice and hospitality sector. The Let’s Cook range consists of vegetables such as chillis and red onions, while its Let’s Bake range encompasses fruits including pears and strawberries. In addition, Nim’s has shown strong collaboration with customers and a clear commitment to quality assurance and reducing waste.

“Clearly a business that loves innovation and goes beyond the call of duty for customers and it boasts the commercial numbers to prove it,”​ one judge said.

Bakery Manufacturing Company of the Year: Rich Products

A multinational food products corporation, Rich Products is headquartered in Buffalo, New York. Its UK arm has invested heavily in its Andover bakery, which showcases the latest technology.

Responding to lockdowns, the business developed coffee shop cookie bags for c-stores, giving shoppers access to products usually sold in foodservice outlets. The company boasts an excellent customer service record and has developed bespoke skills programmes. Sustainability work includes the roll out of recyclable packaging and waste reduction.

“Performing exceptionally as a well-established business with clear metrics and deliverables,”​ one judge concluded.

Chilled, Fresh and Dairy Manufacturing Company of the Year: Charlie Bigham's

Frozen Manufacturing Company of the Year: Iceland Manufacturing

With production based at Gorton, Manchester, Iceland Manufacturing is the dedicated vertically-integrated manufacturing division of Iceland Foods Group. Winner of a Judges Special Award in the 2021 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards, the company continues to show investment in people, equipment and a substantial new product development pipeline.

In terms of environmental initiatives, it aims to ditch all plastic packaging and is working on reducing waste and water use, while in broader corporate social responsibility, it’s clearly plugged into supporting the local community.

On skills, it has fostered a wealth of training schemes, from apprenticeships to leadership courses. On the technical side, there’s a strong stress on quality assurance. “A very successful year demonstrating great customer uptake of new ranges,”​ one judge commented.

Free-From Manufacturing Company of the Year: Moo Free

Moo Free displayed a range of characteristics that impressed the judges, from strong ethics and training to its journey towards B Corp certification, illustrating its efforts to mitigate its climate impact. Its products meet the needs of customers who can’t enjoy traditional chocolate products. The company has also shown fantastic work on equality, diversity and inclusion

Ingredients Manufacturing Company of the Year: Kudos Blends

Operating out of its Kidderminster facility, Kudos Blends makes leavening agents for the bakery industry that can also improve the nutritional profile of baked products. Its extensive range is designed to improve the taste, texture, colour, shape and shelf-life of chemically leavened goods and also assist with gluten-free NPD.

Additional solutions are aimed at supporting the removal of sodium, aluminium or phosphate while increasing potassium levels. All are backed by strong in-house support from a team of food scientists and bakery experts at its centre of technical excellence.

The company shows a solid grasp of waste management issues and is committed to Investors in People. Judges were particularly impressed by its culture of innovation steeped in a deep engagement with its customers and sound scientific know-how, backed up with a variety of testimonials and examples.

Meat, Poultry & Seafood Company of the Year:

Highly Commended: ABP

Winner: Dunbia

Founded in 1976, headquartered in Dungannon, Northern Ireland and now under the umbrella of Dawn Meats, Dunbia is a red meat processor that sources and manufactures beef, lamb and pork products for retail, commercial and foodservice markets.

Judges singled out its high standards of quality assurance, food safety training and focus on employee health and wellbeing.
It’s in sustainability that the business really shines, however, with a rigorous drive to mitigate its climate footprint. “A very strong application with good supporting data to demonstrate business improvements - particularly in the sustainability area,”​ was how one judge put it.

Plant-based Manufacturing Company of the Year: The Compleat Food Group

Formed from a merger between Addo Food Group and Winterbotham Darby in 2021, Compleat is a major force in the chilled food sector. Last year saw Winterbotham open a second plant-based factory in Milton Keynes as part of a £5m investment in its meat alternative brand Squeaky Bean, after the finalisation of its first fully dedicated plant-based production site in Bicester in 2020.

Compleat says demand for plant-based products increased in 2020, with younger consumers a big driver. Distribution of the Squeaky Bean range has increased fivefold since December 2019, with its products now available in the big four retailers.

Industry Initiative Awards

Export Award: Taylor's of Harrogate

The market for British tea is currently flourishing says Taylors of Harrogate, which has boosted overseas sales of its Yorkshire Tea brand in regions including the US, Australia and Canada. It has also driven up exports of its Taylors Tea brand in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.

Overall, Taylors of Harrogate managed to reach its export target three years early by building on a robust strategy, strong branding and range and comprehensive trade show coverage worldwide. One judge said: “A very impressive growth trajectory and a textbook example of building sustainable exports through brand investment and deepening international relationships.”

Service Provider Partnership Award: Foundation Earth

A not-for-profit company that aims to develop front-of-pack labelling communicating products’ environmental impacts, Foundation Earth has already recruited an array of food industry advisors. They range from manufacturers such as Unilever, Nestlé and PepsiCo to retailers such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

Candidate products must undergo a full life cycle assessment before securing an Eco Impact score. The analysis looks at every part of the supply chain, from farm production and processing to packaging and distribution.

Foundation Earth is working towards launching its system in UK and EU markets after introducing a pilot programme to test consumer responses. One judge commented: “With a huge amount of support from large supermarkets and producers, this is an excellent way to tackle greenwashing and to help drive consumers to make the right choices.”

Training Award: Müller Telford

The Impact 21 programme at Müller’s Telford production site proved undeniably instrumental in improving overall equipment effectiveness and, despite pandemic-related restrictions, succeeded in delivering face-to-face, hands-on training.

The learning programme had a strong focus on lean manufacturing, drawing on tutors from the automotive sector, and used real problems as a way of providing relevance and experience.

Having delivered concrete benefits, the company is building on that by evolving specific leadership modules. “It does seem to be a comprehensive training method and would take considerable effort,”​ one judge said.

Sustainability Award:

Highly commended: Pilgrim's UK

Winner: Cranswick

With the bold aim to be the world’s most sustainable meat business, Cranswick is committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2040. At the time of entry, a significant amount of senior managers had signed up to be CPD certified in net zero practices, demonstrating a heartening top-down approach to eco-friendly goals.

Having reached 100% renewable energy across all its sites, with combined heat and power boilers being rolled out across the factories, the business is cracking down on scope three on-farm emissions and, based on its evidence, is making substantial headway. One judge called this ‘a comprehensive entry that covers virtually all the bases’.

People Awards

Apprentice of The Year:

Highly Commended: Samah Rafiq, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

Winner: Kathryn Rose, Mondelēz

An Apprentice food technologist, Kathryn was hailed by Mondelez as the first person in the UK to graduate in her Level 3 Food Technologist Apprenticeship standard. Her end point assessment project was focused on investigating natural alternatives to sugar and formed part of the programme supporting the UK launch of Cadbury 30% reduced sugar chocolate. Kathryn has acted as an ambassador for food industry Apprentices, championing their cause at House of Commons events.

Future Talent Award:

Highly commended: James Bell, Weetabix; Katie Barwise, Carr's Flour Mills

Winner: Rebecca Clancy, Iceland Manufacturing

Having gone from food technologist to technical services supervisor at Iceland Manufacturing within the space of three years, Rebecca has completed its internal Aspiring Leaders training programme, showing substantial future promise.

Combining a challenging and supportive management style, she is credited with introducing a number of processes delivering tangible results. For example, she has succeeded in developing technical systems that have enhanced customer service and waste. One judge said: “Rebecca has clearly made a positive impact on manufacturing performance and appears to have significant future potential."

Site Team of the Year: Dalehead Foods

In the midst of a pandemic, the Dalehead Foods team significantly grew output, despite tighter production schedules and launching a large number of new products.

Exemplifying cross-functional teamwork the company’s entry showed clear evidence of collaborative working and a hands-on approach to tackling COVID-19, power outages and a flood. This was achieved at the same time as maintaining service levels, boosting margins and improving health and safety.

“Great initiatives in the fields of sustainability, maintenance of customer service levels, increased output and NPD,”​ said one judge.

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