Food firms shortlisted for East of England Co-op Producer of the Year title

East of England Producer of the Year Suffolk contender Fiona Brice of Havensfield Happy Hens of Hoxn

East of England Producer of the Year Suffolk contender Fiona Brice of Havensfield Happy Hens of Hoxne, near Eye. Picture: RAE SHIRLEY - Credit: Rae Shirley

High-flying East Anglian food producers will be battling it out for one of the region’s most coveted crowns this month.

East of England Producer of the Year Suffolk contender Gavin Battle of Purely Pesto, Leiston. Pictur

East of England Producer of the Year Suffolk contender Gavin Battle of Purely Pesto, Leiston. Picture: RAE SHIRLEY - Credit: Rae Shirley

Two Suffolk, two Essex and two Norfolk producers have been shortlisted for East of England Co-op’s annual Producer of the Year Awards 2018

Now members and customers are being asked to participate in a public vote to back the best of East Anglian produce.

The shortlisted contenders for Suffolk are Havensfield Eggs of Hoxne, near Eye, and Purely Pesto of Leiston, while Wicks Manor Pork of Tolleshunt Major, Maldon, and Ken Green Fish Merchants of Clacton-on-Sea will be vying for the Essex title. In Norfolk, Gnaw Chocolate of Norwich and Buxton Potatoes of Buxton, near Norwich are the shortlisted firms.

From Monday, January 1, to Wednesday, January 31, shoppers across the counties will be encouraged to ‘vote local’ to decide their worthy winner and fly the flag in support of their favourite producer.

East of England Producer of the Year Essex contender Fergus Howie of Wicks Manor Pork, of Tolleshunt

East of England Producer of the Year Essex contender Fergus Howie of Wicks Manor Pork, of Tolleshunt Major, Maldon. Picture: RAE SHIRLEY - Credit: Rae Shirley

Following the vote, three county champions will be selected from across the region, before a panel of food and farming experts visit each nominee in February to judge who will be crowned as the overall Producer of the Year 2018. The winner will be announced at the East of England Co-op’s celebrated Supplier Supper in March.

Roger Grosvenor, joint chief executive at the retail chain, said: “Producer of the Year celebrates the hard-working local people behind the great-tasting products our customers see on our shelves. Food provenance is incredibly important to the East of England Co-op and we are proud to stock hundreds of fantastic produce from across the region as part of our Sourced Locally campaign.

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“Our shortlisted producers are eager to make it to the final. I would like to urge everyone to take two minutes to vote and show your support for some of Suffolk’s best-loved food businesses.”

More than 19,000 votes were cast in 2017, when Coggeshall-based Great Tilkey Honey – famed for its 100% natural Essex and Suffolk honey – was crowned Producer of the Year.

East of England Producer of the Year Essex contender Ken Green of Ken Green Fish Merchants, Clacton-

East of England Producer of the Year Essex contender Ken Green of Ken Green Fish Merchants, Clacton-on-Sea. Picture: RAE SHIRLEY - Credit: Rae Shirley

Michael Coe, co-founder of Great Tilkey Honey with his wife Deborah, said: “Winning Producer of the Year was absolutely fantastic and a real privilege. The East of England Co-op is a great champion of local produce and has been so supportive throughout our journey as a small business.

“Producer of the Year promotes the best food suppliers in East Anglia and I encourage the public to vote for their favourite producer. Every vote counts and from personal experience I know there is nothing better than receiving recognition from the people who enjoy your products.”

The shortlisted producers said they were grateful for the support they had received from the retailer.

Fiona Brice, who runs free range egg firm Havensfield Eggs, with husband, Alaistaire, said: “The most rewarding part of our job is eating our own product and feeling proud of what we have achieved.”

East of England Producer of the Year Norfolk contender Tim Briscoe of Buxton Potatoes of Buxton near

East of England Producer of the Year Norfolk contender Tim Briscoe of Buxton Potatoes of Buxton near Norwich. Picture: RAE SHIRLEY - Credit: Rae Shirley

Chef Gavin Battle, who took a six month gastronomic trip around Italy before founding Purely Pesto, said setting up the business had been “a dream come true”. “Our customer loyalty has been amazing over the years. I like to do two out of three of the weekly delivery rounds to keep in touch with our customers, sharing stories and news about the company,” he said.

Pig farmer Fergus Howie, of Wicks Manor Pork, said: “I’m extremely proud to run a business that is recognised for actively and proudly selling great local produce made on our family farm in rural Essex.”

Fish merchant Ken Green said: “I have remained a fisherman at heart. I have over 60 years of experience in the trade and I am immensely proud that my fish shop and I are still going strong.”

Votes can be cast online and in East of England Co-op stores in Suffolk on selected dates. Everyone who casts a vote this year will automatically be entered into a prize draw to win £150 of shopping vouchers.

East of England Producer of the Year Norfolk contender Matt Legon of Gnaw Chocolate, Norwich. Pictu

East of England Producer of the Year Norfolk contender Matt Legon of Gnaw Chocolate, Norwich. Picture: RAE SHIRLEY - Credit: Rae Shirley

The retailer has created six short films which showcase the producers which can be viewed on the East of England Co-op YouTube channel. It works with around 100 local producers through its multi-award winning Sourced Locally initiative, which has generated over £57m for the regional economy since launching in 2007. To find out more about the producers, and to vote, visit: https://www.eastofengland.coop/poty2018