The Guild of Fine Food's annual Shop of the Year awards, a competition which recognises and promotes excellence in independent retail, is now open for entry. Previously forming part of the Great Taste accreditation scheme, Shop of the Year will expand and break out on its own this year, to offer even more opportunities for small independent retailers, such as delis, farm shops and cheesemongers, to achieve a stamp of approval from respected industry experts.
The new-look Shop of the Year has four main categories, which businesses can enter themselves into, including, Best Delicatessen; Best Farm Shop or Garden Centre with Food Hall; Best Grocer, Village or Community Shop; and an award for a specialist cheese shop. In addition, for those unsung heroes in the industry, like the cheese counter assistant who knows their range like the back of their hand, or an in-house butcher that has introduced excellent hygiene procedures, there is also a Retail Hero award, to recognise the hard work of those individuals driving the business forward. A Newcomer of the Year award will be awarded at the judges' discretion to a shop that has been trading for less than 24 months.
Written entries will be reviewed by Shop of the Year's panel of expert judges, which includes Edward Berry of The Flying Fork, Stuart Gates, who has worked for both Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, award-winning retailer Tracey Colley, Georgina Mason from Gonalston Farm Shop, one of the UK's leading farm shops, and Karen Barnes, editor of delicious. magazine. The shortlist will then be mystery shopped in June and July, before the judges complete an announced visit during August.
John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, explains: "There are some very special independent retailers out there, who are doing wonderful things to inspire, educate and excite customers, so we felt it was about time that the deli owners, cheesemongers and grocers who are at the top of their game got the recognition that they deserve. We have over 35 years' experience in working with these people and really understand what it takes to be a success in speciality retail, and this is no small feat. In the coming years, we would really like to see the Shop of the Year logo being proudly displayed in shop windows, much like the Great Taste stamp adorns the products on their shelves, giving consumers the assurance that they are shopping in a truly excellent establishment. In the spirit of supporting the survival of our high street and encouraging people to shop local, Shop of the Year is only open to those with a 'bricks and mortar' premises, therefore no online retailers are able to enter."
Shop of the Year, which is free to enter, opened for entry on Sunday 11 February at Fine Food Show North in Harrogate. Entries can be submitted online at gff.co.uk/awards/soty and entry will close on Friday 13 April.