Suppliers are lavish in their praise of buyers who support innovation in juices and smoothies. Mary Carmichael reports

As a category cresting the wave of health, innovation really counts in juices and smoothies and suppliers flagged up buyers' support for new and innovative products as one of the major influences on their nominations for this month's Six of the Best.

Tesco's Zoe Parker was the clear winner, with suppliers singling out listening skills and reliability as particular assets. "She always comes back to keep you informed," said one, "going out of her way to deliver news by phone rather than by default.

Nominated for soft drinks buying last year, Parker has honed her skills to top this poll, with one supplier praising her "trust and integrity". Another said: "She is firm but fair, has an acute awareness of Tesco's worth, but delivers her side of the bargain too."

Waitrose's Stuart Owens is no stranger to plaudits. Nominated for juices and smoothies in 2004, he topped last year's soft drinks poll. Manufacturers praised his fairness, as well as his support for innovation. "He's prepared to back his instincts rather than wait to be second in the market," said one supplier.

Both Sainsbury's Michael Luck and Morrisons' Peter Burleigh have also featured in Six of the Best before. A "collaborative approach" and "clear and concise communication" put Luck, among the top six again. He was praised for his support for innovative brands and companies, while Burleigh scored highly on commmunications. Suppliers approved of his straight-talking, no-nonsense approach and described him as a great ambassador.

Robert Brindley from Boots impresses with his category knowledge. "He strikes a balance between strategic thinking and commercial reality," said one supplier. Planet Organic's Peter Langsham was praised for being a "fantastic driver of the organic world and supportive of young companies."

Star Buyer: Zoe Parker
Parker joined Waitrose's graduate training scheme in 1997 after leaving university. She trained in stores for four years across a range of disciplines before transferring to head office and then working as a buyer in health and beauty. After moving to Tesco in 2002, she became a dairy buyer, focusing on speciality milk, cream and alcoholic cream, then adding soft cheese and long-life milk to her remit. Her current role, which she has held for a year and a half, involves buying chilled and ambient fruit juice, smoothies, squash and kids' multipack drinks. Parker says her job is challenging but enjoyable. "There is a lot of growth in this area and loads of innovation. It's an interesting and varied role." 

Best of the Rest

Stuart Owens, Ambient & chilled juice buyer, Waitrose 
Owens has been in this role for three years. His buying career began at Sainsbury in 1990, where he covered health and beauty, household, own label and barbecue and kitchenware, before a stint with Petsmart and another with Safeway in soup, canned fruit and desserts.

Robert Brindley product manager for chilled foods, Boots
Brindley has held his lunchtime-focused role for a year, following six months managing giftcards. Prior to this, he joined Tesco's graduate training scheme in 2000, working in marketing and as customer marketing manager for confectionery and biscuits.

Michael Luck, buyer, own label and branded chilled drinks, Sainsbury
Luck started his job at Sainsbury, in October 2003, after joining the chain as buyer for baby food and accessories in 2002. His career kicked off with a stint as in-store commercial manager for Marks and Spencer.

Peter Burleigh, buyer for ambient soft drinks, morrisons
Burleigh, has been buying all fruit juice, water, squash, energy, carbonates and mixers for Morrisons for six years. He started his buying career with the chain in the 1980s but had a sojourn as a trainee store manager for Do-it-All before moving back to Morrisons in 1995.

Peter Langsham, fresh buyer, planet organic
New Yorker Langsham started with a Japanese importer in 1991 and moved into natural foods in the US in 1999. He worked for Whole Foods Market and came to the UK three years ago. His role centres on chilled, frozen and bakery products, meat, fish, cheese and wine.