Name: Jessica Smyth
Job title: Senior buyer – in-store bakery sweet treats
Company & location: Sainsbury’s, Holborn
Education: I didn’t go to university, but instead started on an apprenticeship scheme at Tesco head office in 2018.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? It changed so often. As a small child I wanted to be a teacher! But I always knew I wanted to work with people and as part of a big team.
Why did you decide to go for a career in food & drink? I didn’t know buying was an option when I was searching career fayres at school.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine started her university placement year working at a produce supplier and looking ahead at graduate scheme options, that I then discovered the opportunity to work in food retail. I am passionate about food, and love to work as part of a big team, so it felt like the perfect fit.
Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two). I am responsible for sourcing and purchasing the in-store bakery sweet treat products available on shelf at Sainsbury’s. This covers everything from product, packaging, price and promotion, with the customer always at the heart of decision making.
It’s a role that many people don’t knows exists, which I love as everyone is always really fascinated when I explain what my job involves!
“I didn’t know buying was an option when I was searching career fayres at school”
What does a typical day look like for you? A typical day involves working closely with many functions across the business. Supply chain to ensure we have good availability of stock for the customer, as well as product development and technical to ensure we are developing seasonal products and delivering exciting new product ranges that we know our customers will love, whilst also reviewing existing products to improve quality.
I also work really closely with suppliers to ensure we can deliver quality and equally great value to our customers, which involves regular factory and site visits to give an invaluable understanding of each product and the processes involved to deliver it.
Tell us about how you went about applying for your job. I knew I wanted to work for Sainsbury’s. As a customer I’ve always loved the products, and I’d heard great feedback about the culture.
I applied for the role online, and was quickly contacted by the HR team to arrange an interview with the head of buying for in-store bakery. I remember feeling quite nervous, as it was an in-person interview at the Holborn Store Support Centre, but the HR team had given me some great pointers to prep for the interview and the head of buying made me feel really at ease. I was offered the role a few days later.
What’s the best part about working for a food & drink company? I love being part of the product development process and seeing new products come to life from the original concept and land in-store.
Everyone has a mutual passion and energy for food, which is great, so we all have something instantly in common. Product sampling sessions are my fave!
The breadth of exposure is also fantastic, liaising with growers to manufacturers, to working with small incubator brands – meeting so many different people from various walks of life with food at the heart.
And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? A lot of people think that as buyers we spend a lot of time working behind spreadsheets and purely focusing on commercials.
Although this is a key part of the job, it’s also important to make sure we focus on working closely with the a wide range of teams to ensure that we can meet the needs of the customer.
What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? Network as much as possible! It doesn’t matter what your background is and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in food and drink.
If you can demonstrate you can work hard and show excellent communication skills, resilience and adaptability you will have the core skills to be successful. There are also plenty of schemes at graduate and apprentice level across the industry, and roles that require little to no prior food and drink experience, the key thing is demonstrating your ability to contribute to the overall success of the team.
What’s your ultimate career dream? I would love to continue my journey in food and drink at Sainsbury’s and at some point maybe dabble in a different role such as product development or marketing. Who knows, the opportunities in food are endless!