Everyone loves an award - it's a fantastic endorsement of your product, and of your business. While time is always squeezed when you're a startup, making the effort to enter a well-chosen award can really pay off. Just ask the founders of Fools and Queens, Aly Johnson and Matt Heath. This year their delectable sugar-free (but by no means fun-free) puddings have won two Great Taste awards - an amazing achievement for a new product. Here's their experience of entering (and winning!) awards.

What awards have you won for your food business?

We had the prestigious honour this year of receiving not one, but two Great Taste awards - two gold stars for our Lemon Posset and one gold star for our Orange and Honey Posset.  We decided to enter the 2016 awards because, as well as being a badge of honour, the coveted gold stars really do help set apart your product from anything else out there.  We knew Great Taste was widely acknowledged as the most respected food accreditation scheme for artisan and speciality food producers, so it was a no-brainer to enter our two most popular puds. 

The unmistakable black and gold Great Taste label is a signpost to a wonderful-tasting product, a product that has been given a gigantic thumbs-up after hours and hours of blind-tasting by over 500 of the most demanding palates belonging to food critics, chefs, cooks, restaurateurs and producers, as well as a whole host of food writers and journalists.  

We were also shortlisted this summer for the Food and Drink Federation’s Regional Growth Award. This saw us competing against Simply Ice Cream, Sweetpea Pantry and the London Bread Factory, all of whom are very well established companies, so it was a huge honour to sit alongside them. 

How to win awards with your food business

What does the process of being up for an award involve?

This is the first year we have entered any competitions. We've only been going as a company for two years.  We are so confident in our products and so keen to give them the accolades they deserve that we wanted to enter our puddings into as many relevant awards and competitions as we could find.  We found that the majority of competitions are open for entry in the first part of the year with results announced throughout the summer.  It has afforded us the opportunity to get our company and our wonderful puds in front of a new audience.  We have followed a general rule of thumb in that other than the entry fee for the Great Taste awards we have not paid to enter any other competition. We believed the Great Taste Award’s would have the greatest impact on sales if we were to win one, and so we backed that horse. We thought any other awards we might win would be nice-to-haves!

What is the judging process like?

That all depends on the competition that has been entered. The Great Taste awards are judged blind - your product alone has to be outstanding in order to wow the judges. Packaging can be as a jazzy and eye catching as you want, but the little bit of food that it contains has to be able to hold its own when it counts. We consistently receive such fabulous feedback for our possets that we knew, when they were naked, they would be just fine. 

We have entered competitions that judge us and our company (not our product), enabling us to be taken seriously as a small, startup business. This means that not only do you need a fantastic product, but also a solid foundation from which it can grow and prosper.  These types of competitions looked at our ethos, core values and our objectives, growth and growing strategy, leadership and employee contribution, responsibility and sustainability.   

Sadly we have also entered a few competitions which we thought would understand and support our aims and objectives, but have in fact been rear-facing and incredibly prejudiced against our ‘fat is your friend, sugar isn’t’ rhetoric (which, rather than stopping us, has made us even more determined to keep on trucking).  The lesson learned here is not to enter everything, be selective with who you want to judge your product, and know what you want to achieve and how the competition can help you move forward. 

How to win awards with your food startup

What are the benefits of winning an award? How has it positively impacted on your own business?

We have seen an increase in sales since we started applying the distinctive black and gold stickers.  We have also had increased enquiries from retailers and we have found buyers much more receptive to our introductory call. Now we aren’t just another pudding company, we are a Great Taste award-winning pudding company - and there aren’t a whole lot of them around!

What do you think has been the key to your success so far?

A great business partner.  A fabulous product. Perseverance. And a determination to succeed.  

Any other tips for startups who’d like to be award-winning?

All the advertising, marketing and branding in the world won’t make up for a mediocre product.  Ensure your product isn’t just great, it has to be outstanding. 

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