A PAIR of Essex food producers have once again been shortlisted for the East of England Co-op's annual awards.

East of England Co-op members and customers will again be invited to take part in a public vote to back the best of Essex produce as part of the eagerly-anticipated Producer of the Year competition.

Essex producers, Wicks Manor Pork and Ken Green Fish Merchants, have both been shortlisted and will be competing for votes against other regional producers in the annual event.

Now in its sixth year, the awards are a celebration of growers, farmers and producers from across Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Two producers from each county covered by the supermarket have been shortlisted with Havensfield Eggs and Purely Pesto in Suffolk and Gnaw Chocolate and Buxton Potatoes in Norfolk also in the run for the title.

Voters have until Wednesday January 31 to vote for their winner and support of their favourite producer.

As in previous years three county champions will be chosen from each county and then a panel of food and farming experts will visit each of the them in February to judge who will be crowned overall Producer of the Year 2018.

The winner will then be announced at the East of England Co-op’s annual Supplier Supper in March.

Roger Grosvenor, Joint Chief Executive at the East of England Co-op says: “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.

More than 19,000 votes were cast in 2017 when Coggeshall-based Great Tilkey Honey took home the title.

Michael Coe, co-founder of Great Tilkey Honey with his wife Deborah, says winning was 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.”

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

The East of England Co-op works with approximately 100 local producers through its multi-award winning Sourced Locally initiative, which has generated more than £57million for the regional economy since launching in 2007.

To find out more about each of the shortlisted producers and to vote visit: https://www.eastofengland.coop/poty2018

**Panel on each of the finalists**

The Wicks Manor farm has been part of the Howie family for three generations, with each generation growing up in the same farmhouse and passing on the strong family values of the farm.

Owner Fergus Howie explains the welfare of their pigs has remained its priority for the past 50 years.

They oversee the entire process of creating their bacon, ham and sausages – from growing the pig feed to making the sausages – ensuring their products are of the highest quality.

Fergus runs the fully integrated farm business in Maldon, and supplies the East of England Co-op with a delicious range of pork products as part of their award-winning Sourced Locally initiative.

He says family remains the most important part of what they are doing and continue to do.

“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,” he explains.

“The most important aspect of the business for me is the family.

"It’s amazing to see my three children growing up on the farm; exploring and discovering the same things that I did. I’m passing on my knowledge to my children and they’re happy to help out – particularly with product testing!

“The long-term aspiration for Wicks Manor Pork is ensuring its longevity for the generations to come.”

Last year Wicks Manor Pork’s collaborated with the East of England Co-op on the Great Sausage Mash Up to celebrate 50 years of farming.

Budding foodies got the chance to create a limited edition sausage flavour.

Fergus adds: “The winning flavour, pork with honey, was then created exclusively for East of England Co-op food stores.”

Being shortlisted in the East of England Co-op’s Producer of the Year awards may not have come as a surprise to the team, who have won many awards over the years.

In 2013, they were crowned winner of Britain’s Best Sausage at the Meat Industry Awards and shortlisted in the 2016 finals for Britain’s Best Burgers and Britain’s Best Sausages.

All of the Wicks Manor Pork farm products are prepared and packaged in their own butchery and smokehouse.

He adds: “We are unique in that we grow and mill wheat and barley on the farm to feed the pigs that live at Wicks Manor Pork farm.

“The bacon is dry-cured by hand and smoked using a blend of beechwood chips to give a lovely aromatic flavour.

"We also offer a delicious range of premium pork burgers and sausages which have super high meat content and are made using prime cuts of shoulder. We eat our sausages, bacon and ham non-stop. We’re our own number one fans!”

**Panel 2**

KEN Green grew up in a family of fisherman and fish merchants so his future career was already inevitable.

Ken, who is an MBE, says he had his heart stolen by the sea from a young age.

He is the fifth generation of the Green family to work in the fish industry and is the proud owner of Ken Green Fish Merchants in Clacton.

He says despite tough times for the industry he is proud to have kept his business going, adding the support of the Co-Op to whom he supplies 20 of its stores with fresh and frozen fish every week has been vital in this.

“It was always my destiny to work with fish,” says Ken.

"I am a fish merchant by profession but 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. I must say, my diet of mainly fish has put me in good stead.”

“Despite fish shops closing down around me, I have remained as stubborn as ever and refused to shut up shop. I am so grateful to the East of England Co-op, their support means that I can continue to make a living doing what I love.”

Ken Green Fish Merchants also supply to farm shops and butchers across East Anglia, and is a wholesale and retail fish merchants specialising in smoking a variety of fish.

After moving the business to Clacton 20 years ago, Ken has become famous in the seaside town for his oak smoked salmon as well as his kippers, haddock, hot smoked mackerel and wild prawns.

Production starts in the primary processing area with filleting, trimming and splitting before moving onto the smoking area.

"Experienced hands are vital in our processing area.

"We never cut corners and we always do the job as it should be done."

Ken now lives in Brightlingsea where his community spirit has continued to thrive.

Ken added “Brightlingsea has an amazing community spirit and I am always trying to promote it and the work the fisherman do.

"They have had a raw deal recently so it is important that as a community we club together, supporting one another.”