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East of England Co-op: Home grown spuds, ham and ice cream are simply the best

06:00 15 February 2014

Jason Whittleton – Sourced Locally Specialist East of England Co-op,  Rebecca Whitehead -Lane Farm, Tim Briscoe - Buxton Potatoes, Colin Gray of Rossi Icecream, Roger Grosvenor - Exec Officer - Retail EoE Co-op Back row – the judges Lady Caroline Cranbrook, Michael Pollitt and William Kendall.

Jason Whittleton – Sourced Locally Specialist East of England Co-op, Rebecca Whitehead -Lane Farm, Tim Briscoe - Buxton Potatoes, Colin Gray of Rossi Icecream, Roger Grosvenor - Exec Officer - Retail EoE Co-op Back row – the judges Lady Caroline Cranbrook, Michael Pollitt and William Kendall.

Picture:James Fletcher

Top regional food producers who supply East of England Co-op stores battled it out for county awards as customers and members voted for their favourites. SARAH CHAMBERS reports on a hotly-contested election

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Jason Whittleton Sourced Locally Specialist East of England Co-op, Colin Gray of Rossi receiving his certificate and Roger Grosvenor - Exec Officer - Retail East of England Co-op.Jason Whittleton Sourced Locally Specialist East of England Co-op, Colin Gray of Rossi receiving his certificate and Roger Grosvenor - Exec Officer - Retail East of England Co-op.

The cream of East Anglia’s food producers have made it through to the regional finals of a prestigious competition.

The East of England Co-operative’s Producer of the Year Awards 2014 was a keenly-fought contest between some of the region’s most prized food products.

Members and customers of the East of England Co-op have voted in their thousands to nominate their county champions in the awards.

More than 3,500 votes were cast online, by post and in-store in the annual awards, which celebrate the quality and diversity of more than 130 growers and producers who contribute to the Co-op’s ‘Sourced Locally’ range – bringing locally produced food and drink into co-op stores in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

Jason Whittleton Sourced Locally Specialist East of England Co-op,  Rebecca Whitehead of Lane Farm Country Foods  receives her certificate and Roger Grosvenor - Exec Officer - Retail East of England Co-opJason Whittleton Sourced Locally Specialist East of England Co-op, Rebecca Whitehead of Lane Farm Country Foods receives her certificate and Roger Grosvenor - Exec Officer - Retail East of England Co-op

Today, the East of England Co-op has revealed this year’s County Champions, who each received more than 1,000 customer votes and now go forward to compete for the title of Producer of the Year. They are:

Suffolk Champion: Lane Farm Country Foods from Brundish, near Woodbridge, producers of sausages, Brundish back and streaky bacon, cooked ham, Suffolk salami and Suffolk chorizo from own-reared pigs.

Essex Champion: Rossi Ice Cream from Southend, artisan producers of ice cream and sorbets.

Norfolk Champion: Buxton Potato Company from Buxton, specialist potato growers and suppliers.

Jason Whittleton Sourced Locally Specialist East of England Co-op, Tim Briscoe of Buxton Potato Company receives his certificate and  Roger Grosvenor - Exec Officer - Retail East of England Co-opJason Whittleton Sourced Locally Specialist East of England Co-op, Tim Briscoe of Buxton Potato Company receives his certificate and Roger Grosvenor - Exec Officer - Retail East of England Co-op

The votes were hotly contested, with the other shortlisted candidates – Havensfield Eggs in Suffolk, Great Tilkey Honey in Essex and Yare Valley Rapeseed Oil in Norfolk – each achieving over 1,200, 700 and 530 votes respectively.

Kevin Warden, East of England Co-op’s Local Sourcing Manager, said: “Congratulations to our county winners and runners-up who have all done an outstanding job in producing great tasting products and meeting customer demand all year round. This year we received more votes than ever, which just goes to show how much our customers value the opportunity to buy local from those dedicated growers and producers who have such a passion for good-quality food. We wish all three county winners the best of luck for the final round.”

Rossi Ice Cream has been making hand-made Italian ice cream and sorbet since 1932 and is one of the few UK makers of artisan ice cream still using fresh milk.

Lane Farm Country Foods, run by Ian and Sue Whitehead, along with their daughter Rebecca, began supplying to the East of England Co-op in 2007 and are amongst the first people in the country to produce salami commercially.

Ian said: “We are so pleased and proud not only to win this award but also to be able to supply and feel part of the East of England Co-op. We are also humbled by the number of people who took the time and effort to vote for us, unbelievable.”

Colin Gray, director of Rossi Ice Cream, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have been recognised by the society and its customers and voted as the Essex County winner. It is very rewarding for Rossi Ice Cream to be appreciated by its customers for the staff’s dedication and loyal commitment in producing a great range of products and maintaining an excellent customer service.

“We highly value the support given to local suppliers and the opportunities that the East of England Co-op has made available to us and look forward to continuing our relationship in the future.”

Tim Briscoe, owner of Buxton Potato Company, grows Norfolk potatoes ideal for boiling, roasting, mashing and chipping and began supplying East of England Co-op stores in 2010.

Tim said: “I am staggered by the number of votes we got and delighted for the guys I work with that all our hard work from variety testing, growing seed and then planting and harvesting has been rewarded with confirmation by our customers that they are enjoying our tasty, value for money potatoes!”

Since 2007 the East of England Co-op has put £20 million back into the regional economy, creating over 100 local jobs and protecting many more. In almost five years, its Sourced Locally range has grown from a few suppliers to over 130 bringing over 2,000 local products into stores and in the year to 25th January 2014, Sourced Locally sales grew by 30% – demonstrating just how important local suppliers and the Sourced Locally brand are to the Society, its members and customers.

Later this month an external panel of judges will deliberate on which County Champion deserves to be crowned Producer of the Year. Lady Caroline Cranbrook, a tireless campaigner on rural issues; William Kendall, a Suffolk-based organic farmer and campaigner who built up New Covent Garden Soup Company and Green & Blacks; and Michael Pollitt, the agricultural editor at the Eastern Daily Press, will select the winner to be announced at the East of England Co-op’s Supplier Supper on March 20 when all the finalists will receive cash prizes and a hand-crafted commemorative plaque.

The lucky winner of the East of England Co-op’s Prize Draw open to all who voted was Petra Ellis, from Suffolk, who received a £100 East of England Co-op shopping voucher and a hamper of Sourced Locally products at a ceremony at Framlingham.

Mrs Ellis said: “I’m delighted to have won the prize draw and will look forward to spending the vouchers at my local Framlingham Co-op. I voted for Lane Farm because I love their sausages and bacon and the opportunity to buy their products and other locally made food and drink is one of the main reasons I like to shop at the East of England Co-op.”

To read more about the three county winners or to find out more about Sourced Locally visit: www.eastofengland.coop/2014producer

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