Juices and smoothies is one of the most dynamic and fast-changing of all food and drink categories, and one where suppliers require support from buyers to enable them to keep up with the pace.
Not all retailer buyers are up for the challenge. Indeed, one supplier says: "Buyers ought to think a bit more long-term. Many seem to be driven by getting great results today but don't think about what they can do to change things for the future." However, this makes those buyers who do all the more valuable.
One man who is highly regarded by the juice industry is Stuart Owens, ambient milk and chilled juice buyer at Waitrose, who has been named by suppliers as the best buyer in the category for the second consecutive year. Owens, who according to manufacturers is the best of the best by some distance, is universally praised for his openness when dealing with companies and his willingness to innovate and take on new products. "I had an idea for a fairly exotic blend of juices and an added ingredient," says one supplier. "I talked to Stuart about it a little nervously, wondering how he would respond to a fairly radical idea. But, he just said: 'You make it and I'll put it on the shelves'."
Owens is particularly praised for helping suppliers with their NPD. "Just the fact you have somebody you can always talk to is a massive help," says one supplier. "He has a strong sense of what customers are going to respond to and he has the willingness to take new routes to exploit the market."
His colleague James Hodgson, ambient juice buyer at Waitrose is also nominated. Hodgson is seen as a straight-talker and manufacturers say they warm to his no-nonsense attitude. His experience at the sharp end of retailing is greatly valued by suppliers. "I think every buyer should have to spend about five years in store," says one juice maker. "That would give them a bit of common sense."
Sainsbury's also has two entries in the top six: Nick Durham and Jo Pain. Both were nominated for being diligent but fair. "Sainsbury's buyers are always upfront with us, which we respect," says one supplier. "We know where we stand with them."
Asda buyer Jon Cummings was also nominated for his fair dealing with suppliers but also for his friendly manner when dealing with companies
Smaller juice companies appreciate the commitment of Megan Oliver at Fortnum and Mason saying she understands the appeal of organic and responsible sourcing. "We try to buy British where possible," says Oliver. "Only through working closely with our suppliers and building a relationship based on trust can we hope to achieve this."