The competitive arena that is grocery retail has been the backdrop for an extended game of musical chairs during the past few years.

Ambitious store chains hungry for market share have devoured smaller ones, increasing their range - both of products and consumer buying occasions - particularly in non food. Suppliers, meanwhile, have reviewed their portfolios, with the gamblers acquiring established brands and rising stars and even the behemoths streamlining their line-ups.

At the same time, the pace of change, in terms of new trends, has accelerated, leading to a constant consumer demand for innovation, according to a report from training organisation Skillsmart Retail. “The pace and skills that were once associated with high fashion items are now being required in completely different product areas,” it says.

The changes have had long-reaching effects, increasing competition but littering the playing field with casualties. “Retailers have disappeared from the UK market but so have manufacturers, deeming it unprofitable,” according to one buyer.

The changes have also impacted on the buyer's role. Many have seen their remit expand - either across categories, by number of stores or retail formats. The level of responsibility has increased, as has the need to work with a greater number of people.

John Gee, a food and drink recruitment specialist for consultancy Nigel Wright, says: “Retailer consolidation has definitely increased the complexity of the buyer's role. Different markets have different customer profiles and different requirements for products, case sizes, merchandising and so on.

“This means having to liaise with and place trust in more people throughout the supply chain, but ultimately the buck stops with the buyer.”

Naturally, the pressure to perform is even more intense and some buyers admit to feeling the strain. “The pressure on buyers is now immense,” says one. “The buying world is even more cut-throat and, with goods being sourced worldwide, it is bordering on being a 24/7 job.

“The pressure to gain the best price has never been higher, and it is now more than ever an integral part of the job to ensure that suppliers both know and can service the markets for which they are producing.”

On the other side of the equation, consolidation among suppliers and within ranges has been a dual-edged sword. Gee points out that it is inextricably linked to retailer consolidation.

“It can bring benefits: greater cost efficiencies in the supply chain, more NPD and willingness to take risks, but it can also mean less choice, limitations on negotiation and more bureaucracy,” he says.

Buyers seem to be swayed towards the advantages of consolidation. “Branded competitiveness has increased and competition for private label contracts has grown considerably,” according to one forum contributor.

“No longer having to rely on the leading brand lets you be more creative in generating profitable sales, while in own label the focus on shorter contracts allows you to source the most efficient or competitive supplier and keeps parties interested in your business,” says another.

However, others are more cautious. “The supplier has more of its eggs in one basket and from the retailers' point of view there is more consolidation of manufacturers and fewer places to look for goods in order to better pricing,” warns one.