By Kim Havelaar, Founder of Roqberry

The Great Taste Awards are judged by over 500 food critics, chefs, cooks, restaurateurs and producers, as well as a whole host of food writers and journalists. They’re widely acknowledged as the most respected food accreditation scheme for artisan and speciality food producers.

The unique black and gold Great Taste label is a signpost to a wonderful tasting product, which has been discovered through hours and hours of blind-tasting by hundreds of judges. One star is given for products that deliver fantastic flavour, while two stars are reserved for those that are above and beyond delicious.

While there is no ‘trick’ that will guarantee that your business will win a Great Taste Award, there are some ways to improve your chances by creating a product that is as unique as it is delicious. In just over 18 months, Roqberry won an incredible 20 Great Taste Awards for our speciality tea, so I’ve learnt a thing or two about what impresses judges. My five top tips are as follows:

  1. Be bold with flavour

When we launched Roqberry, we were a bunch of foodies looking to ‘blend the rules’ around what tea is, what it could be, and when it could be drunk. We wanted tea that complemented our food, which is a bit unusual, especially in the UK.

Big bold flavours were essential for our brief as the tea needed to hold its own when paired with rich foods and not be reliant on milk which softens the flavour. We created flavours like Sushi & Spice and Raspberry Fondant, both of which went on to win two stars each.

So, my first piece of advice is to not be afraid of flavour. Don’t settle for making something tasty yet boring if you could make something delicious and outstanding. In fact, make both. We also won Great Taste Awards for our more traditional blends, such as English Breakfast and Pure Peppermint, but it was our unusual and exciting flavours that really wowed the judges.

  1. Put your trust in your palate

One question I get asked a lot is, how do I know when a new flavour is award-winning? The truth is, I don’t. We create tea blends that we like and work from there. Which brings me to my second top tip: trust your own palate!

You are not just a business owner and foodie, you are a customer yourself. By creating something that you love, there’s a very good chance you’ll be creating something someone else will love too! The important criterion to focus on is the flavour. A tea could look good and smell good, we may have even thought up the perfect name for it, but, if it didn’t deliver flavour, it was dismissed.

I recommend giving yourself a set amount of space and time to allow your creative juices to flow. Play around with ideas and flavours, take inspiration from a number of sources, and don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t taste great on your first try. Some of the best flavours we’ve created have been the result of a number of iterations ‒ we keep working the flavour and recipe until it tastes just right…to us. Then we get feedback from our customers.

  1. Be ruthless in deciding what stays in the range

Of course, the balance to the point above is that you also need to cut any flavours that don’t prove popular with your customers. They are your ultimate taste-makers.

To quote William Faulkner, you must kill your darlings. Just because you created flavours with love and care doesn’t mean you should keep them in your range. We use events and tradeshows to test our new flavours on our customers. People vote with their wallet and if we sell out of a product by sampling it, we know we are on to a winner.

Even now we will discontinue a product if it turns out to be the least popular one, even if it is one of our personal favourites. This helps continuously raise the standard of our teas, ensuring each one meets the standard for great taste.

  1. Always push the boundaries

One more point on flavour (after all, it’s the most important thing) ‒ you must push the boundaries if you want to create a truly outstanding product. We’d rather create ‘Marmite’ tea than produce a tea that’s ‘fine’ for everyone. If you are ‘fine’ for everyone you are not pushing the boundaries hard enough and no-one will love your product.

It’s far better for some customers to absolutely LOVE a product and for others not to care for it than to create something mediocre. And truly unique products will never satisfy everyone’s preferences. At least if you have a unique product that some customers love then you have a captive audience for that range. Other customers will prefer other unique flavours, so it’ll all work out in the end and customers will have a wide range of products to explore!

  1. Maintain quality

When managing a food or beverage company, there are lots of strategic and commercial decisions you will need to make. Things like pricing strategies and distribution channels. One thing you should never compromise, however, is the quality of your ingredients.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Even if you have a delicious recipe, using cheap ingredients will compromise the flavour and overall quality of the product. Eating and drinking is about the entire experience ‒ cheapening the ingredients cheapens the experience. Cheap experiences do not win Great Taste Awards.

For example, to maximise flavour, we use only wholeleaf tea that we blend ourselves by hand. This ensures the right balance of delicious flavours in every cup. For the tea bags themselves, we opted for natural materials over the plastic teabags used by cheaper brands. Not only did this decision help preserve the flavour of the tea, but it also helped get Roqberry noticed by the mainstream press.

My advice: if you have an option, always go for the higher quality ingredients. Customers will prefer it and the Great Taste judges, with their impeccable palate, will certainly appreciate it.

Ultimately, while a Great Taste Award is a nice achievement, it shouldn’t necessarily be your aim. Focus on finding great flavours from high-quality ingredients, find space and time for your creativity to flow, and let your own unique experiences inspire your choices.

If you make something you love with care and attention, you can be sure others will love it too. Test your creations on your customers and keep refining them as you go along. Be brave and ditch anything that doesn’t work.  With this approach you’ll develop a range of great-tasting products. Let’s hope that the Great Taste Awards judges find one of more them exciting and worthy of an award.

About the Author

Kim is the founder and Managing Director of Roqberry. Kim spent 15 years at GE working across a variety of industries and holding senior leadership roles in Commercial Operations and Strategy. She also holds a Masters in Business Administration and in International Management (RSM/ESADE).  Kim runs the day-to-day operations of Roqberry and has also qualified as a tea sommelier.