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Food Manufacture Excellence Awards: New categories and process – and insight from the judges

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Food Manufacture Excellence Awards 2023 saw around 400 guests join in celebration at the black tie event
Food Manufacture Excellence Awards 2023 saw around 400 guests join in celebration at the black tie event

Related tags FMEAs Food manufacture excellence awards Food manufacture excellence

Food Manufacture’s esteemed awards night will soon be open for entries and this year welcomes several new categories along with an exciting change to the judging process.

With 2024’s Food Manufacture Excellence Awards (FMEAs) accepting entries next month (August 2023), we’ve gathered the thoughts of our 30+ judges to find out what they’re looking for across the 15 categories.

A new judging format for FMEA 2024

As per the usual format, food and beverage producers wising to enter will need to fill in the form online, answering the questions/prompts provided. The judging panel will assess each entry upon a range of relevant criteria and select their finalists, with the winners announced at the ceremony on 8 February 2024.  

For five of the 15 categories, there is a further level of judging which requires the finalists to present ‘Dragon’s Den’ style in front of a dedicated judging panel. The accolades upon which this applies to are all people-orientated; this also applies to our grand prize for the Food and/or Beverage Manufacturer of the Year. 

The awards are a fantastic way to generate positive publicity,​ enhance your company profile, reward team success, network and, of course, have fun after all your hard work! Here's a breakdown of each category and the recipe for success according to the judges. 

FMEA 2024 award categories

Site Team of the Year

Entrants for this category must show the team’s key achievements and how these have benefited the overall business in terms of growth in sales, profit margin and/or production. They should also show how well they worked together to overcome challenges and meet team targets and objectives.

Commenting on this category, Nomad Foods, group learning & development manager and FMEA judge Lisa Fox said: “I will be looking for a great team who can prove that they have the drive and impetus to solve a company-wide issue and resolve this so that the organisations has benefited, and benefits have been realised. The key to this award is the methods and ways of working the team deploy to ensure success.”

ESG Excellence Award

This is a company award designed to recognise a food or drink manufacturer that has made substantial strides in the areas of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). Entrants should be able to provide concrete examples of ways in which they have embedded ESG into their organisation’s framework.

A winning entry will be able to demonstrate excellence in all three areas of environmental preservation, consideration of humans our interdependence, and logistics and defined processes for running a business.  

“I am looking for innovation that ensures people and planet are treated fairly and equitably across a whole value chain,” ​noted judge David Moore, who is The Compleat Food Group’s first head of ESG.

“As a judge for the FMEA ESG category, and as head of ESG services for Menzies, I will be leveraging personal experience of implementing a successful ESG strategy internally, as well as insight gained from helping our clients to do the same,”​ Richard Singleton, finance & sustainability director at Menzies told Food Manufacture. “Most importantly I will be looking to see that organisations have embedded ESG within their overall business strategy and culture, implementing initiatives that deliver measurable impact. I have observed that where clients view their ESG strategy as an opportunity to drive creativity and innovation within their business, they are winning not just hearts and minds but new customers and revenue streams at the same time. I’m looking for real commitment and creativity that is win-win.”

Collaboration and Partnership Award

This award is designed to recognise partnerships between processors and customers or service providers, including, for example, retailers, packaging or equipment suppliers, energy or food safety consultancies and contract packers or manufacturers. Food and drink manufacturers can enter this category, or their partners can on their behalf.

Examples of partnerships may include a retailer collaborating with a supplier on bespoke technology; an engineering firm executing a tailored project to improve production line performance; an IT provider introducing a specialist solution integrated into existing systems to digitise records, or a warehouse or logistics provider designing a unique storage or distribution solution offering clear business benefits.

“It is really important to demonstrate a true partnership leading to outcomes both parties could not achieve alone,”​ explained judge Geoff Eaton, chairman of Butcher’s Pet Care.

“Your pitch will excite me if your product excites you!”​ added Claire White-McKay, food development manager of Quorn, who also joins the judging panel. “I will be inspired by initiatives deeply rooted in your values and where I can see empathetic leadership and motivated teams. Finally, I love elegant, simple solutions to sustainability problems in the food and beverage industry.”

International Trade Award

For the International Trade award, entrants must demonstrate significant growth and development and market penetration in overseas markets, particularly focusing on how they overcame key obstacles.

Susana Morris, who will be judging on the International Trades Award category and acts as AHDB’s senior export manager – Americas (livestock), said she’ll be keeping her eyes peeled for those who have shown “significant growth in overseas markets and examples of how they have overcome some of the biggest issues of time”.

Cherry Healey joined as last year's special guest host

Whilst judge Mathew Thewlis, operations director for Yeo Valley said it’s about demonstrating a “compelling narrative of developing the business internationally” ​and that he will be particularly interested to see unique offerings and propositions, how companies have researched and develop cultural relevant to the market, as well as their supply development and success in delivery.

Food Integrity Award

Although food safety remains a vital word in any manufacturer’s lexicon, the responsibilities to deliver on multiple fronts has become ever more evident. As such food integrity has become the key must-have – that the food we produce is safe, authentic, nutritious, sustainable and ethical. It’s not an easy ask and this award will be given to the food and/or drink company that is able to show it has truly embraced integrity throughout its entire supply chain, fostering and championing a food safety culture among all employees.

“I am interested in the culture of the organisation in this area, how it is led and maintained through people, not just ever better use of technology. I am interested in the human dimension of integrity,” ​noted Tim McLachlan FMEA judge and chief executive of the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST).

Emerging Business Award

This accolade will go to a new business that has proven excellence in its category and made a difference, whether that’s through R&D, growth, or a unique and great initiative. Entrants must have been operating for a maximum of three years. 

“The early years in a new business are really exciting and so I expect see some great companies driven by enthusiasm and underpinned by a new approach or innovation,” ​said Chris Gilbert-Wood, a food technologist who has worked in the food industry for four decades and will be judging on this category.

Adding to this, judge David Lloyd, senior R&D manager of Huel, commented: “What I’m looking for is a strong demonstration of innovative ideas that have driven business growth and manufacturing efficiency. With R&D close to my heart, I’m hoping to see great science and engineering initiatives as well as collaborative working approaches that help magnify impact. Businesses that look to do the right things for people and the planet is also a must.”

The Community Award

Entrants must be able to show clear examples of how they have collaborated with a charity or initiative and successfully make a difference. This could vary from a partnership with a redistribution charity to a self-devised programme that has improved working environments in your supply chain.

“From and organisational perspective it is vital now more than ever that companies understand that they have an obligation to support external charities particularly if they are relating to supply chains,”​ noted Fox. “In this category I will be looking for worthy examples of where there has been close collaboration with a charity or worthy cause and how the organisation has helped and supported them using their skills and experience to improve how they work. This category may also be internal where the company can prove that they have made a better working environment by means of initiatives and programmes for colleagues in supply chain.”

The Innovation Award

This award is all about new and exciting ideas coming to fruition which have the potential to or have made a real impact. Entrants could vary from innovation in ingredients, to storage technology, to packaging, to whole systems. The innovation must have been executed rather than at concept stage, with evidence showing their impact and further potential.

Judge James Robinson, chairman of the Bold Bean Company, says he’ll be looking for ideas and improvements that have made a “demonstrable difference to people and results across any part of the value chain”. 

He continued: “I welcome simple, as well as technically complex ideas and solutions.”

Meanwhile Ramona Hazan, founder of Ramona’s Kitchen highlighted her interest in companies developing brands and initiatives to meet consumers needs in an innovative and sustainable way. In particular, she flagged the importance of standing out from the crowd and having clear goals.

The Future Food and Drink Factory Award

Are you using robotics, AI or working with data in new and clever ways? Then this award might be for you – this category is for those who are embracing the future with technology within their factory. But remember, it’s not just about how high tech you are – it’s also how you implement it!

"For me, in data and science I trust. I'm looking for innovative stories along with the quantitative facts to substantiate. Show me the metrics!" ​Stated judge and Clean Label Project’s chief executive, Jaclyn Bowen.

“I am looking for industries striking a balance between efficiency, sustainability, and resilience. Recent events such as Covid, war, earthquakes have brought to the fore the need for a resilient and sustainable food supply chains. It would be good to see how companies adopting to the new challenges​,” added Manoj Dora, director of centre for intelligent supply chains at the School of Management at Anglia Ruskin University, who joins Bowen on the judging panel.

Supply Chain Excellence Award

Entries looking to secure a win in supply chain excellence will need to show they have considered and built-in resilience, agility, flexibility and transparency throughout their entire chain. They will also be able to show how they are managing, measuring and improving their supply chain to further push for excellence.

Commenting on this category, judge Amy Wilkinson and co-host of the award-winning food industry podcast Oh For Food’s Sake said: “As an expert in personal resilience, I will be on the lookout for resilient and sustainable initiatives in the supply chain.”

While Mark Baggaley, operations director at Butcher’s Pet Care said he’ll be taking note of inventory costs, how business processes have been integrated with technology such as ‘cobots’, and a superior balance between demand and supply in which sales and commercial work hand in hand with operations.

The ‘Dragon’s Den’ categories

With the below five categories related to people and leadership, those who excel in the first round of judging will be selected as finalists and invite to attend an online presentation, in which they will be required to answer questions for the judging panel. The winner will be decided once all the finalists have been seen and then announced at the awards ceremony on 8 February 2024.

Employer of the Year

This award will go to an employer who has not just shown growth and retention, but that it also cares about its employees. This could be evidenced by a training initiative devised in-house; a community partnership, for example going into a school (primary, secondary or upper) to help raise awareness and educate; or new ways it has encouraged inclusion and promoted wellness. The winner will be a stand-out employer that nurtures, engages with and listens to its staff, and provides ample opportunity for all.

Baggaley said the winner of this award will need to demonstrate evidence of “a strong employee recognition programme supported by a golden thread of tagging company mission and vision cascading into colleagues’ objectives”.

He’ll also be keeping a keen eye on how that employer manages work-life balance, an effective talent pipeline and development opportunities, as well as fostering a fun workplace.

Future Talent Award

This is designed to reward an individual under 30 years old in a junior non-administrative role within a food or drink manufacturer, or who is undertaking an apprenticeship at the company that shows real promise.

Entrants should be nominated by a colleague, ideally their line manager, who should show the positive contribution they have made to their employer, together with any admirable personal characteristics they may possess.

“These awards are always an inspiration to judge as they celebrate the people in the food industry who really make a difference. For the Future Talent Award​, we're looking for our brightest talent – those that we can see are demonstrating the stand-out qualities that are going to make them our food leaders of the future,”​ said independent consultant and leadership and career progression expert, Jon Poole, who will be judging this category.

Collage Maker-05-Jul-2023-11-43-AM-8789
The Food Manufacture Excellence Awards will take place on 8 February 2024, with entries for next year opening in August 2023

“As a judge, I am keen to see how employers have grown an individual both personally and professionally,” ​judge Daksha Stancilas, talent & development manager at Pret A Manger, told Food Manufacture. “Entries from employers who look beyond and can demonstrate the talent to shine through meaningful contribution to business objectives is key to show people are important enablers for business growth. Within the F&B sector this can be difficult with operational targets, so to overcome current economic challenges and be invested in future growth will stand out and demonstrating through examples and impact in local communities or wider initiatives will be reviewed positively.”

Factory Manager of the Year

Another new addition for 2024, factory manager of the year will be awarded to a leader who has seen their operations and team both grow and thrive. Entrants will be able to demonstrate success, efficiency under their leadership but also teamwork, innovation and a strong regard for health, safety and wellness. 

Lending insight into what she’ll be paying attention to, Konstantina Karagkika, senior scientific & regulatory affairs manager, said it’ll be about showing your “passion to do the right thing coupled with great problem-solving abilities.”

For Thewlis it’s a demonstration of success in working within different spheres of your organisation, including commercial colleagues, the wider supply chain and your own team, as well showing evidence of growth and efficiency.

Business Leader of the Year

This is open to C-suite/founder level only. Entrants must present how their business has grown and developed under their leadership, their current business plans, where they have successfully invested and expanded, as well as their strategic vision for the future. The winner will be able to demonstrate resilience, innovation and clear direction.

Judge Charlotte Langdon, director of audit and assurance at Menzies said she’ll be drawing from her own experience in manufacturing as she looks out for “inspiring leadership and great strategic vision which is backed up with solid growth and financial performance”.

She continued: “I am also looking for future potential, which is inspired by creativity, innovation and bravery – finding new opportunity in spite of challenging market conditions.”

“In my category, I’m looking for leaders who are the catalysts for change and are willing to inspire others to achieve more than is possible working as individuals,” ​said Andy Richardson, chair of the UK Dairy Productivity initiative, who joins Langdon as a judge.

Food and/or Beverage Manufacturing Company of the year

This prestigious FMEA award is open to any food and/or beverage manufacturing company, including pet food, plant-based, meat, soft drinks, alcohol – you name it!

Replacing the individual category awards, the winner of this title must show they have gone above and beyond as a producer whatever their segment is. The winner will be able to demonstrate strong growth, true innovation and integrity, as well as supporting important values such as sustainability and wellbeing within their workplace. This is the F&B champion of champion’s prize. 

“I am looking for an overall demonstration of excellence in the food manufacturer of the year, plus evidence of pushing the boundaries of ambition in areas such as innovation, health, ESG and facilitating the best opportunities for people to realise their full potential,”​ advised Eaton.

Finnebrogue Artisan 2023's Food Manufacturer of the Year winner

Judge Alec Kyriakides, who is a highly regarded independent food safety consultant, added: “The Food Manufacturing Excellence Awards are a fantastic opportunity to recognise and reward the great achievements in our wonderful industry at both a company and individual level and, in judging this year, I am just as enthusiastic about examples of the basics being done really well through to those pushing the envelope.

“So, whether you are a long established business or individual who just does your stuff really well or one who is pioneering in your offer, your operation or ways of working, I cannot wait to see your entry and hopefully recognise your contribution to our industry.”

While fellow judge Natalie Chiu, open innovation lead for Mondelez, commented: "I look forward to hearing how businesses demonstrate outstanding innovation and development. I am also excited to find out how companies embrace collaboration and understand how these partnerships offer unique solutions that benefit all parties."

Feeling nervous about entering?

It’s important to remember that this awards night is a celebration and a chance to showcase your business and have fun.

Although you’ll be facing fierce competition, if you don’t enter, you’ll never know if you could win – go on, tell the industry about all the great things you’re doing and let your hair (nets) down!

From the whole team at Food Manufacture and on behalf of the judges, we wish you the best of luck.

New to the awards? Step inside last year's Food Manufacture Excellence Awards here​ or read what previous FMEA attendees had to say about 2023's event​ as told by socials. You can also find out about last year's winners in this post-event summary​. 

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