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Source: Ocado

Suppliers to Ocado say they are encountering a “conveyor belt” of buyers and report feeling pressured into entering JBPs and paying out for promotions and additional marketing.

The Grocer has spoken to several Ocado suppliers who have been assigned multiple buyers in recent months, complaining the buying team is “in disarray”. “We continually lose buyers,” one long-standing supplier said.

Other suppliers say the online supermarket’s buyers are “obsessed” with pushing them on to Ocado’s promotions platform with “more than a strong implication” that refusal will see supplier NPD and price changes quashed.

“It feels like the buyers are pushed really hard to raise new marketing costs from us,” said one supplier. “They feel the pressure. All that charm school training wears off and it’s now purely transactional.” 

Another supplier said: “They have admitted they are under so much pressure. They are struggling to retain people and appear to be constantly recruiting.” 

The Grocer understands Ocado’s buying team was expanded rapidly as it transitioned from Waitrose in 2019, the supermarket having handled most of the branded supplier relationships. The department grew from around 20 buyers to more than 70 within months. The buying team has continued to grow, with a headcount of 140 as of January.

Following the retirement of Ocado buying director Rosemary Price, who had been with the company since 2010, in November last year Ocado appointed Julian Beer as chief merchandising officer with responsibility for its buying function. Beer had previously been chief commercial officer at Lidl GB.

Several senior buyers have departed the company in recent months, including two heads of buying. The company is currently advertising for 11 positions on the buying team – 10 times the number currently sought by rival supermarkets – including that of buying director of fresh, chilled and frozen.

Former Ocado buyers The Grocer has spoken to describe a “cut-throat” culture with performance expectations unlike any other retailer.

Ocado said its buyers were remunerated like most other supermarkets based on customer satisfaction, sales and margins. The supermarket added that JBPs were based on mutual best interest for Ocado, suppliers and customers. Furthermore there was rigorous GSCOP training for all buying staff.

“As the fastest-growing UK grocer, Ocado Retail has a firm commitment to bring the best to our suppliers,” an Ocado spokesman told The Grocer.

“We are uniquely placed to help suppliers win – offering innovative ways to launch new products, the opportunity to trial new promotions, media and marketing approaches, and having access to unrivalled data,” the spokesman added. “By working closely with suppliers, and growing our buying team, we continue to provide an unbeatable online range and fair value to our customers.”