The huge variety of products in the bagged snacks sector, which includes crisps, baked snacks, tortilla chips and nuts, means that it covers a wide range of needs, from food that is an occasional, sinful treat to products a nutritionist would consider saintly.

The buyers singled out by snack suppliers are those deemed to be the most in tune with how the £1.8bn UK bagged snacks market is changing. They are also the keenest listeners, according to suppliers.

Waitrose bagged snacks buyer Adrian Gash wins the accolade of this month’s Star Buyer for these reasons, as well as his ambitions to grow Waitrose’s and its customers’ businesses.

“He works with us so that we can be successful,” according to one supplier. “He also wants to be successful and he knows that by talking to us, we can get closer to where we want to be.

“That’s a wonderful thing. It means that if he’s got an issue we can talk about it and resolve it rather than it just being dismissed. He listens carefully and that helps everybody involved.”

Suppliers suggest a listening culture is also a major characteristic of buyers at the retailer that dominates the rest of this month’s Six of the Best - Tesco.

Tesco buyers listen to suppliers’ arguments, they say, and are also prepared to give companies a fair chance when they want to launch new products or tweak their existing ones to adapt to changes in the market.

“The supermarkets are continually looking for new products and we have found that Tesco has given us the biggest opportunity to provide for them,” says one supplier. “It’s a big thing, particularly for small companies, just to be given an opportunity to drive innovation.”

Tesco’s category manager Eric Tavoukdjian is one of three Tesco buyers to be singled out by bagged snack suppliers for their hard work and commitment to growing the category.

Tavoukdjian, in particular, is praised for his fair, yet no-nonsense attitude towards companies.

“Eric is balanced and level-headed in his approach to us,” says one supplier. “Although he is a tough negotiator, he makes reasonable demands. He also has a very good understanding of the category and works collaboratively with suppliers.”

Another adds: “You always get the feeling that Eric wouldn’t ask you for something that he wouldn’t be prepared to give if he were on the other side of the table.

“I know he can push hard, but when he pushes you feel he knows what it’s like to be in your shoes.”

Star buyer: Adrian Gash

Gash has been with Waitrose for three years. He joined from Safeway, where he spent six years covering pharmaceuticals, bread and finally crisps. Gash says buying is the supermarket’s engine. “If we don’t source the right goods at the right price and the right time, nothing works.”

Rizwana Khan
Buying manager, crisps, nuts & snacks, Tesco

Khan joined Morrisons in 1988 and progressed to the bakery buying team in 2000 where she assumed responsibility for ambient cakes and catering ingredients. She spent time as impulse buyer at Threshers before joining Tesco last year as the buying manager for crisps, nuts and snacks.

Kevin Patel
Buyer, produce, nuts and dried and exotic fruit, Tesco

Patel has been a Tesco employee since March 2005. Before joining he held retail positions, from sales assistant through to deputy manager, at Halfords. He joined Tesco as a stock control buying administrator within produce and was promoted to assistant buyer in March 2006. He has taken responsibility for the Wholefoods nuts and dried fruit brand.

Sarah Hames
Buying manager, crisps & snacks, Tesco (until April 2007)

Hames joined Tesco as a trainee in 1999, from the University of Bradford. She has undertaken several buying roles at Tesco including a three-and-a-half stint in produce and has spent the past six months as buying manager for crisps, nuts and snacks. At the end of April, she moved to buying manager for carbonated drinks.

Spencer Playle
Crisps, nuts & snacks buyer, Sainsbury’s

Playle has been buying crisps, nuts and snacks for Sainsbury’s since November 2005. He started his career there in 1997. After five years at in-store level, he passed graduate training and became a frozen foods buyer.

Eric Tavoukdjian
Senior buying manager, crisps, nuts & snacks, Tesco

Tavoukdjian was a graduate from a Paris business school. He has worked at Tesco for six years, two-and-a-half of which were spent developing new revenue streams and 18 months managing tobacco kiosks. He moved to impulse before becoming manager for crisps, nuts, snacks and biscuits.