BUSINESSES are preparing for a different kind of food fight as they vie for the top spot at an annual competition.

The grand finalists have been announced for the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2020.

More than 17,000 public votes were cast and an expert panel of judges spent hours analysing the candidates to decide which companies would make it to the final few.

Sussex farmer and Nuffield scholar William Goodwin, chairman of the judges, said: “The competition continues to get tougher year on year and the 30 grand finalists, 17 from West Sussex, 12 from East Sussex and one from

Brighton and Hove, should feel immensely proud at making it through to this final stage in the competition.

“Over the last decade, Sussex has really earned its place as one of the leading counties in the UK for producing superb food and drink and this year’s line-up of grand finalists offers an impressive range of first class, diverse businesses from across the county.”

Now 30 brilliant businesses, excellent events and inspiring individuals remain to compete for the top spot in categories such as Food Producer of the Year, Drink Producer of the Year, Butcher of the Year and more.

The battle for the title of Food Producer of the Year is now a three-way race between hand-crafted sausage shop Bangers Galore in Horsham, Jengers Craft Bakery in Billingshurst and The Sussex Biltong Co in Piltdown.

Meanwhile the coveted mantle of Drink Producer of the Year will be contested by a trio of tasty tipple-makers.

Bolney Wine Estate, Long Man Brewery in Litlington and Ridgeview Wine Estate in Ditchling Common will all be desperate to win.

Butcher of the year will also be a close call, with Cottenhams of Lindfield, Nick the

Butcher in Hartfield and Tablehurst Farm winning over judges and public alike to make it to the final.

Farmer’s Market of the Year may have some familiar names to Brighton residents with the Horsham, Lewes and Shoreham markets making up the final three – all a short drive from the city.

The Food Shop of the Year gong looks as if it will go slightly further afield.

Jeremy’s Two in Cowfold, Rushfields Farm Shop in West Hoathly and The Fig Tree in Hurstpierpoint are voters’ finalists.

Another much-wanted title is that of Eating Experience of the Year.

Shoreham’s seafood restaurant Into The Blue, West Hoathly’s The Cat Inn and The Fig Tree in Hurstpierpoint are all in the running.

While many farm shops and rural businesses are tipped for the top at the Sussex Food and Drinks Awards, the event also gives a nod to the more urban side of the industry.

The contenders for the Street Food of the Year award have served up thousands of tasty treats to ravenous travellers in the last year.

Hog roast specialists Mann and Moore from Horsham and Italian cuisine experts Pizza Leonati are sure to face a good grilling from The BBQ Project in St Leonards if they are to claim the accolade.

Alongside its celebration of established stalwarts of the Sussex food and drink scene, the awards will look to the future with three awards devoted to up-and-coming talent.

Newcomer of the Year will be awarded to either Heritage by Matt Gillan, a restaurant in Slaugham, Heritage Wheat in Keymer or Skylark Cafe Restaurant in Eastbourne.

Young Chef of the Year has also been whittled down to three individuals blessed with culinary wizardry way beyond their years.

Dan Ibbotson from etch in Hove, Freddie Innes from Ockenden Manor Hotel in Cuckfield and Thomas Thwaites of Rathfinny Tasting Room in Alfriston are the contenders.

But the awards also look outside the kitchen.

Conor Haydon of Goodwood Estate in Chichester, Dan Hird from Lambert Farm in Plumpton or Dan Wells of Holmbush Farm in Burgess Hill could be named Young Sussex Farmer of the Year.

The awards evening will be held at the Amex stadium at Falmer on July 1.

The event will be presented by Olympian Sally Gunnell and BBC Sussex Danny Pike.