Their votes have gone to buyers who show fairness and clarity and knowledge of the market, but they also rank highly those who understand the importance of striking a balance between healthier lines versus treats and premium versus price and value.
Clare Bartlett from Waitrose tops the pile. She has been in the role for a year after several years focused on health, beauty and babycare but has evidently amassed an impressive level of market understanding.
“She has built up a really good product knowledge and has continued to deliver a sales performance ahead of the market,” says one admirer, while another says: “She is focused on offering the Waitrose shopper a differentiated choice of confectionery and is keen to use category insight to drive sales.”
Morrisons buyer Ryan Turnbull is a close second and is widely praised for being fair and approachable. “He's not bothered by your name not being Mr Cadbury, Mr Mars or Mr Nestlé,” says one smaller supplier. “He gives an equal crack of the whip to all.”
Richard Brittle from Hancocks Cash & Carry is described as a “semi-legend in confectionery”. His 40 years' experience working in the arena have given him “wonderful knowledge”, according to one supporter, while his scrupulous sense of fair play is another much-praised characteristic: “With him, a handshake is a deal.”
Tesco's Des Dunbar “really values relationships with suppliers, seeing this partnership approach as a better way of getting more from suppliers”, according to one company. He is also singled out for being perceptive and for understanding what drives people and businesses. “He engages in negotiation to create value, not just a straight win/lose situation,” is another comment. “He is extremely hands-on in category reviews and takes total accountability for decisions.”
Mike Luck from Sainsbury's is no stranger to the Six of the Best section, having been nominated several times as buyer for chilled drinks. This time around nominators praised his grasp of promotional needs and how to work with a supplier on these, as well as his understanding of smaller manufacturers. “'He is sympathetic and knows how to grow a brand,” says one nominator.
Paul Grigg from Tesco is also singled out. “He is very proactive and understands different points of view,” says one smaller supplier. “It's not all about price with him, he's very willing to listen to what we're about.”
Star buyer: Clare Bartlett, Waitrose
Bartlett started her career a decade ago on Asda's graduate training scheme. She managed home and leisure sections in branches before moving to HQ as a buying assistant for babycare. She was then a buyer within health and beauty across seasonal gifts, fragrances, bath, shower and dental sectors. Her last role at Asda was buyer for crisps and snacks. She joined Superdrug three years ago as babycare buyer before moving to Waitrose last year to become confectionery buyer.
Ryan Turnbull , Morrisons
Before joining Morrisons, Turnbull spent three years in field sales at Coca-Cola. He joined Morrisons five years ago as part of the sales management team, working on fresh food. A year later, he became a trainee buyer looking after sugar confectionery. After completing his training, he became buyer before moving up to buyer for sugar products, chocolate and seasonal confectionery in 2005.
Mike Luck, Sainsbury's
Luck started out as an instore commercial manager working for Marks & Spencer before joining Sainsbury's in 2002 as buyer for babyfood and accessories. He became managing buying for own label and branded chilled drinks three years later and moved to confectionery last year.
Richard Brittle, Hancocks Cash and Carry
Brittle has been working within the confectionery market for nearly 40 years, all of them with cash and carry confectionery specialist Hancocks, after being encouraged as a teenager to “get off his backside and get a job” by founder Ray Hancock. He became purchasing director in 1988.
Des Dunbar, Tesco
Dunbar joined Tesco in June 2006 as senior buying manager for confectionery. Prior to that he was at Iceland for eight years as category manager for fresh, frozen and meat, fish and poultry.
Paul Grigg, Tesco
Grigg has worked at Tesco for 10 years, joining as a warehouse operative at its Milton Keynes depot. He moved into buying last year.