Sauces have lost their sticky image and found sophistication while condiments have also managed to stay clear of the health agenda thanks to the fact that they're used in small quantities.

Sauces is a dynamic arena. Manufacturers have given old favourites a boost and added innovative new lines, while recent barbecuing weather has boosted accompaniments. Price promotions threaten category value, however.

This creates a background where buyers with an eye for innovation are particularly valued and suppliers are keen to praise those who manage to tread the fine line. Receptiveness to new ideas and a proactive approach are characteristics that come in for particular praise.

Top of the pile this time is John Stokes from Waitrose, who has featured among Six of the Best sauce buyers before, although this is his first time on the winner's rostrum.

“He is open-minded and receptive to new ideas prepared to take risks and treats suppliers in a representative way of the John Lewis Group's ethical values,” says one supporter.

Stokes is also recognised as a bit of a connoisseur. “He knows his category inside out and knows exactly what his customers are looking for,” according to another supplier.

Sainsbury's Louise Jones has also appeared here before. This time nominations praise her accessibility. “It's a great asset,” says one. “She is challenging but supportive in doing what is best for the category.”

Another Sainsbury's buyer has also made the top six. Richard Squire is a buyer for chilled foods but, with sauces extending into new arenas, suppliers are impressed by him.

“His passion to drive innovation, his strategic approach and cross functional working has allowed us to challenge current category behaviours,” says one.

Helen Bissell from Tesco has also featured before, but in functional foods. This time, supporters praise her dynamic attitude to pickles and condiments. “Helen embraces the importance of NPD and is keen to Tesco is first to market,” says one. “She has a proactive approach to overcoming hurdles
Tesco has also scored a second winner in this category, with Sam Nundy. His fans deem him “intelligent and interested in offering his consumers points of difference.”

The final member of the sextet is Asda's Andy Schefer, whose passion and enthusiasm appeals. “He is open to new ideas and making things happen,” says one fan.

Star buyer - John Stokes
Buyer for sauces and condiments, Waitrose

Stokes has been buying sauces and condiments for Waitrose for six years, having worked for the group for 11 years. Prior to taking on this role, he worked in a number of other areas, including confectionary and biscuits. The aspect of the category he likes the best is the diversity of both brands and products. He also appreciates the wide range of suppliers, which, he says allows the ability to develop interesting ranges to appeal to all customer groups. He has found developments in own label in the past year particular exciting.

Sam Nundy
Senior buying manager, soups and table sauces, Tesco
Before joining Tesco in 2000 as a graduate, Nundy gained experience by spending his placement year in Sainsbury's grocery department. In six years with Tesco, he has had various roles, starting as a junior analyst for the commodity division, then joining grocery. He took on his current role just after Christmas this year.

Rich Squire
Buyer for counter meat and fresh meat sauces, Sainsbury's
Squire has been in his current role for a year, but has been with Sainsbury's for ten. He worked in produce, as the in-store bakery buyer for a year in 2001 and was then seconded to an operational role in bakery, a job he did for three years. Before joining Sainsbury's, Squire ran several art galleries in London.

Helen Bissell
Buyer for ambient desserts, pickles, olives, and health, Tesco
Bissell joined Tesco two years ago, straight from university on the commercial graduate training scheme. She was store-based for three months before becoming a buyer for slimming and anti-smoking aids, health foods and diagnostic kits. She moved to ambient desserts, pickles, olives and gherkins earlier this year, and has since also taken on condiments.

Louise Jones
Buyer for cooking sauces, Sainsbury's
Jones has worked at Sainsbury's for five years, and has been the cooking sauces buyer since October 2005. Since joining, she has been involved in buying for several categories, including table sauces, dressings, rice and pasta, homebaking and health foods. Before coming to Sainsbury's, she spent two years working for Ford Motor Company on its graduate scheme.

Andy Schefer
Buying manager, rice, pasta, desserts, baking, Asda
Schefer has only been in his current role for three weeks but his sauce nominations comes from his work in a previous role - that of buying manager for condiments and cooking, which he held for just under two years. He has been working for Asda for 12 years altogether but his earlier buying experience was in the non-trading areas, such as facilities.