Meet Sarah Connelly: the woman behind Product of the Year Awards

A decade ago Sarah Connelly embarked upon the task of singlehandedly launching Product of the Year Australia (POY) into the Australian market.

A global awards system voted for by consumers that recognises product innovation, the Product of the Year Awards have been running in 35 countries for over 30 years. In the decade since Connelly brought the awards down under the Australian event has grown to encompass over 40 awards across categories spanning food and beverage, household goods, health, beauty and baby care, and are ‘the awards to win’ for new product innovation in Australia.

Connelly tells Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) the awards have become increasingly competitive since launching in Australia ten years ago.

“Over the last ten years the number of innovations submitted into the program has grown significantly, meaning each category has become increasingly competitive and therefore harder to win,” Connelly says.

“In many ways, this is down to the focus of retailers on developing higher quality Private Label products that are able to compete against established brands. With this evolution, we have also had to tweak the research methodology to ensure that the votes are first and foremost based on the innovation and relevance of the product, not just a lower price point.”

Connelly explains products must match certain criteria in order to be eligible for an award. To qualify as a ‘new’ product they must have only been launched in the 18-months prior to the closing date – but ‘new’ can also encompass a new variant or packaging.

The products then go through a two-step judging process.

“Firstly, we send all the products to a panel of industry experts as well as a few carefully selected consumers who trial the products in their homes and provide feedback,” says Connelly.

“This feedback determines our shortlist. The products that are shortlisted are then voted on by a panel of consumers (13,000+) who vote online using the six key innovation criteria determined by our research partner Nielsen, to determine the winning product in each category.”

According to Connelly winning a product of the year award delivers prestige and credibility to a brand.

“It’s a highly credible and coveted award because it is voted for by everyday people and therefore is a trusted recommendation. I think companies are always striving to innovate, otherwise they wouldn’t survive, and winning Product of the Year is a great indication that they are doing a good job,” she adds.

Quite a few boutique and global brands have leveraged their inclusion in the Product of the Year Awards. So much so, that Australian-made artisan food brand, Birch & Waite, saw a 33% sales lift after being awarded a POY Award in 2017 for their Rich Tartare Seafood Sauce. The brand’s success story isn’t alone; one winner whose story particularly resonates for Connelly is Mater Mothers’ Hospital who won for their nappies.

“The innovation came from talking directly to new mums in the hospital and finding out key concerns and issues with existing products. I get excited when I see something that will make a real difference to people and these products were effectively developed by the customer and the size and design was modified to meet consumer needs. The marketing and PR then leveraged the high engagement of the consumer by having Product of the Year parties promoted on social media. It was a huge success.”

Apart from the kudos receiving an award brings to a business, Connelly suggests there are other benefits to winning.

“If people know that a new product has won then it helps them make a decision on whether or not to try it out. It allows the product to stand out amongst the 1000s of other new products on the shelf.  For businesses, it assists them in understanding the needs and preferences of their customers.”

Connelly suggests any small business who provides a product or national service should consider nominating for the annual awards.

“Once a product reaches national distribution levels the challenge is getting into the big retailers and being a Product of the Year winner can really help with this. To enter the awards it is a simple online process via our website.”

As someone who had a very successful career in marketing, Connelly is au fait with what it takes to make a brand stand out – her advice to small business owners – keep it simple!

“Strong brand design, values and a clear direction on where you want to be and who you want to sell to are key. My advice would be: Work out your point of difference and make that explicit in all communication. I’m also a big believer in hiring experts, especially in the fast-growing and highly influential social media space. It will cost you in the short term but overall it saves time, stress and eventually money. If you find the right people, they can take your business to the next level.”

To find out more about the Product of the Year awards  go to:


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Cec Busby
Cec is the managing editor of KBB. She is a multimedia professional with 20 years experience as an editor on titles as diverse as SX, CULT, Better Pictures, Total Rock, MTV, fasterlouder, mynikonlife and Fantastic Living. She has extensive experience working as a news journalist covering all the issues that matter in the political, health and LGBTIQ arena. She is the Head of Content at Pinstripe Media and a recent convert to the world of small business.


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