Do beer, wine and spirits buyers have the best job in the world? We caught up with the people every alcohol supplier needs to know.

Emma Dawson

Emma Dawson, beer, wine and spirits buyer for Marks & Spencer

Emma Dawson has her hands full at M&S . She is currently working on a number of wine development projects, sourcing the drink from locations including Asia, Brazil, Georgia and Greece, and dreaming up new offerings such as orange wine.

Visiting Japan’s ‘unique’ vineyards ranks as one of her best work trips abroad this year. “The grapes are grown covered with individual paper cups to protect them from the rain,” she says.

This is part of our Alcohol Report 2014.

Dawson, who has been studying wine and spirits for seven years, is currently halfway through the Master of Wine qualification - the highest accreditation for the industry, with only 300 qualified members across the world.

She joined M&S in June 2010 following a six-year stint at Sainsbury ’s, where she worked in both marketing and category planning roles. For M&S she buys wine and spirits across 300+ lines.

“The buyer function shares product development roles with our in-house winemakers, meaning we travel to each winery to blend wines on site, and for spirits develop recipes with suppliers from scratch. Therefore there is an equal commercial and product development aspect to my role.

“We have recently expanded our spirits portfolio to bring in a new raft of artisanal spirits and liqueurs exclusive to M&S. Our bar-quality ready-made cocktail range is also a market-leading innovation.”

Simon Cairns

Simon Cairns, Co-operative Food category trading manager for wine, beer and spirits

“I would urge any supplier to put themselves into the shoes of the buyer and think ‘why would I list this product’? If the answer is not compelling, then you are just wasting that buyer’s time,” declares Simon Cairns, who spent four and a half years as Morrisons’ wine buyer before joining Co-operative Food in his current role.

According to the category trading manager, who currently manages seven buyers and their associated assistants, the Co-operative sells more Fairtrade wine than any other retailer in the world and is not afraid to lead the market.

He insists he is constantly looking for innovation in the category and ‘keen’ to find long-term partners to aid ‘pioneering’ approaches. So does he have any words of advice for suppliers? “Think of ways of adding value that are outside the traditional confines of product and price. How can you improve availability; create theatre; help us talk to customers in a way that brings mutual benefit to the relationship?”

dawn davies

Dawn Davies, beer, wine, spirits and champagne buyer for Selfridges

It’s been seven years since Dawn Davies first stepped into her buying role and she still loves the job. “There’s a lot of tasting and going out to make sure we know what bars and restaurants are doing. It’s a tough life but someone has to do it,” she says, smiling.

Of course there are plenty of other facets to her work; liaising with suppliers to source products, developing and refreshing ranges, chasing new products and working closely with key brands to design and implement gifting lines.

Selfridges recently unveiled a £120 Christmas tree-shaped beer-filled advent calendar, two new Vermouths - Belzasar and Regal Rouge - as well as the new limited-edition Absolut.

Ed ashley

Ed Ashley, Asda senior buying manager – wine

In June 2013 Ed Ashley swapped his role as Asda optician senior buying manager for the world of wine. He leads a 14-strong wine buying team and sets the strategic direction for the business across the category.

Over the last four weeks he and his team have ventured to Spain, Portugal, France and Italy on trips to get a feel for how the latest vintage is shaping up in the northern hemisphere.

“It’s a really interesting part of our jobs that we have to tie together an agricultural product that can differ massively in yield and quality year to year to make sure we get the best possible quality products for our customers,” Ashley explains. Asda launched its online Wine Shop last October.

Pete Newton, beer and spirits buyer, Booths

Pete Newton worked for The Co-operative Group as spirits and tobacco buyer before moving to Booths eight years ago. In July he exchanged buying tobacco, confectionery , news & magazines and greeting cards for the beer and spirits category.

“We manage both large and small suppliers and in particular look to help smaller suppliers when launching new products,” he tells The Grocer.

“It always amazes me how many wonderful products exist that most shoppers don’t ever get to enjoy simply because they are not made by the larger manufacturers… We look to source a range of products both locally and from around the world to not only stay ahead of trends but to deliver what our customers expect from Booths.”

Norman Freeman

Norman Freeman, buying manager beer, cider, ready to serve, spirits, and tobacco at Waitrose

Experienced buyer Norman Freeman is a Waitrose stalwart having joined the partnership in 1983. Over the years he has worked and run teams in all areas of ambient purchasing, covering food and non-food. In 2010 he was appointed buying manager of BWS where he works alongside spirits buyer Herchelle Perez-Terrado and beer, cider and ready to serve buyer Kate Prall.

“For spirits… we aspire to be the experts in whisky , gin and brandy , to lead trends in vodka , rum , tequila and cocktails and lastly be authoritative in liqueurs and speciality products,” Freeman tells The Grocer.

“In beers and ciders this includes expertise within PBAs, world and speciality beers, as well as bottled niche and premium ciders.”

Freeman describes craft beer and the growing trend for flavoursome ales as an ‘exciting area’. “We stock some fantastic beers and the recent collaboration with Thornbridge Brewery for the Great British Home Brew Challenge has produced the Vienna IPA. Of course, we already have in place a route for local beers to find their way to regional and then into national distribution.

“This is very much a part of the Waitrose Way, and falls in line with our ‘championing British values’ ethos, helping to illustrate the strength of product produced in the UK. Within spirits we major on gin and it has been exciting to see the proliferation of new brands coming into the market.”

This is part of our Alcohol Report 2014.