Top new talent 2016

Whatever you think about the long-term outcome, the division engendered by both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump has been depressing. And with uncertainty growing and inflationary pressures building as a result, the supply chain - already struggling after five years of supermarket price wars - feels dangerously close to combusting.

So it was heartening to host this week The Grocer’s Top New Talent Awards. The venue could not have been more perfect. The RSA (or Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), is dedicated to enriching society and shaping the future through ideas and action. And the old bricks and mortar in the historic vaults where the reception was held acted as an almost ironic backcloth in which to celebrate the 36 extraordinary young individuals in our Class of 2016. It’s an exciting list, full of brilliant, positive young minds, inspiring confidence that paths will be navigated through the fog of uncertainty, structural upheaval and inflation.

The list is a testament to the extraordinary variety of roles within the grocery retail sector: there are not only buyers and sellers and logistics and store ops and marketing and production personnel, but a head of e-commerce, a social community manager, a development chef, even the UK’s first modern slavery prevention officer - not to mention a dynamic individual who revels in the job title: Makes Friends.

What’s also striking is how many entrepreneurs there are. Amidst so much upheaval, scale is no longer the sine qua non of successful enterprise. Fleetness of foot, an acute ear, an enquiring mind, a positive attitude and vision - guided by social and digital skills - can belittle giants. And our list is a living, breathing incarnation of this new paradigm.

What’s more, it’s being recognised. With schemes like Tesco’s BackIt, Amazon’s LaunchPad, Ocado’s Discovery Shop - and the likes of Sainsbury’s and M&S keen to get in on the act too - supermarkets are embracing and supporting innovation from startups because not only do they need their innovation to differentiate themselves, it’s a lot more rewarding than a fight.