Fiona McLelland rounds up the 12 star buyers from The Grocer’s Six of the Best series over the past year

Before becoming Tesco’s crisps, nuts and snacks buyer, Allan Maxsted worked in sales on the supply side. He too understands the importance of a balanced relationship, say suppliers. “Allan will always reply promptly to our e-mails and is very open with us and has a sound view of the bigger picture,” says one.

What makes a great buyer? This is the question we’ve asked every month over the past year in our Six of the Best series. And many thanks to the suppliers who helped The Grocer identify those whose passion, knowledge, clarity, communication skills and approachability have made them top of the buying game.
Now, a year since we introduced the feature, we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate those who scooped the most nominations each month to become the year’s 12 star buyers.
Our first star buyer is CJ Antal-Smith, who was buying desserts and ice cream when she appeared in Six of the Best last March, but is now buying manager for beer. Her clarity in communicating goals was what impressed suppliers.
“She has a clear idea of what she wants and neither over-promises nor under-delivers,” says one.
Waitrose’s ambient and juice buyer, Stuart Owens, the star buyer last May, is also praised for a straightforward approach by suppliers.
John Gee, consultant on the food and drink team at recruitment consultancy Nigel Wright, is well aware of the qualities a supplier looks for in a good buyer, having devoured supplier feedback surveys as a buying manager at Tesco.
He says: “A supplier really values a buyer who has, and states, a clear direction for the business, but also someone who is not too proud to change that direction if it’s right for the business. It is also good if a buyer is prepared to take a risk at the right time because it can really pay off.”
Commitment to new product development and a willingness to proactively search for new ideas bagged Asda’s buyer of men’s toiletries, deodorants and dental care, Chris Silcock, his nominations to become star buyer in August. His approachability and contactability - two traits that suppliers often complain are missing in the buying world - make dealings with Silcock enjoyable, say suppliers.
Michael Simpson-Jones, Waitrose’s hot beverages, and breakfast spreads buyer, is also singled out for his commitment to NPD.
One preserves supplier says: “Mike is prepared to experiment and take a bit of a risk - he’s prepared to be different.”
Experience is often key to success, say suppliers. Gee explains: “A good buyer should be able to demonstrate a lot of knowledge about the category, which often comes with experience.
“But it’s not just product knowledge that is important. At Tesco, the most important aspect of the job was to have knowledge about the customer - if you understand what the customer wants, you are in a position to deliver up to expectations.”
Several buyers clearly do this. Wilf Slee, Palmer & Harvey McLane’s confectionery trading manager, “understands the category in depth and, with many years of experience, he is able to make strong category-focused decisions,” says one supplier.
Tesco’s dairy buying manager for butter and fats, Michael Seymour, and buying manager of cereal preserves, sugar and home baking, Lorna Harrison, are two others who have used their experience to drive their categories. One supplier says of Seymour: “He knows his business from all angles and is in a position to understand exactly what can and can’t be done.”
Another says of Harrison, who was nominated by almost every manufacturer that took part in Six of the Best in January: “Lorna has been with the category for a while now and her experience pays off.”
Knowledge and experience often go hand in hand with a passion for the job. It is this that Sainsbury’s spirits and fortified wine buyer Melissa Draycott, who is now on the wine buying team, has in abundance, according to suppliers, who add that Draycott couples this with a pacey commercial agenda and loads of drive.
But perhaps the most important attribute that buyers need to possess, according to suppliers, is a willingness and ability to forge truly collaborative working relationships. A number of our star buyers boast this quality, according to suppliers. One says of Simpson-Jones: “He works in partnership with suppliers and believes in long-term relationships that will build the business.”
Effective collaboration does not just benefit the retailer. Wendy White, ice cream and desserts buyer at Tesco, uses her skills to the mutual benefit of supplier and retailer, says one small supplier.
“Wendy has given us the biggest opportunities among the multiples. She has been very open with information and has taught us a lot. She has given us information about different store formats and customers.”
Gee, who left Tesco towards the end of last year to take up his position at Nigel Wright recruitment consultancy, agrees that collaboration is becoming an increasingly important component in the buyer’s skills set. “Buyers are very busy people and are becoming more so as the competition hots up. Everyone is really under pressure to perform and they are being given more and more tasks to do,” he says.
“The buyers who can alleviate that pressure by building better relations with suppliers will succeed. Going forward, buyers will bring suppliers into the business more to share ideas and give them more of a say.”
Both Asda’s petcare buying manager, Graham Chadwick, and its buyer for rice, pasta and foreign foods, Gill Hope, use a collaborative style of working to help build business for the supermarket and its suppliers. One supplier says: “Graham works with openness and honesty and firmly delivers initiatives he commits to.
“He is a very professional buyer who listens and responds directly. He has helped us rebuild distribution and consumer sales across Asda stores.”
Of Hope, another supplier says: “Gill utilises a flexible style of working to great effect. She strives to continue to drive the category.”
The message is that buyers who can build good relationships with their suppliers will be more likely to succeed in the job.
“A level of humility is needed to be a really good buyer,” says Gee. “A good buyer has to recognise that being successful in the job and being a successful retailer is in part down to having good suppliers. You can be the best retailer in the world, but without product you are nothing.”

Buying into excellence
CJ Antal-Smith
Buying manager desserts
& ice cream, Asda
“I love NPD and seeing sales of a new product that you have developed take off. Being first to market on brands is key. When we brought Skinny Cow to market in 2004 it was a great success”

Melissa Draycott
SpIrits and fortified wine
buyer, Sainsbury
“I have always been interested in the category. Availability has been my focus since starting the job. It is now very good, probably because of my trading background”

Stuart Owens
Ambient and chilled juice
buyer, Waitrose
“The buying role is constantly changing and never static. I am always asking what can be done next as our job is to deliver what the customer wants, hopefully before they have thought about it”

Allan Maxsted
Crisps nuts and snacks
buyer, Tesco
“Working on both sides of the fence has given me a balanced view of the supplier-retailer relationship and a real understanding of how important it is to get that relationship right”

Wendy White
Ice cream and desserts
buyer, Tesco
“It’s a good job if you like talking and I love the people I am working with now. It’s exciting when you’re launching a new product and get to watch customers enjoy it on a hot day”

Chris Silcock
Buyer for men’s
toiletries, Asda
“I love my job. It’s intensive, but keeps the mind active and there’s a really good buzz in the department. I really enjoy seeing the sales coming in and negotiating with suppliers”

Michael Seymour
Buying manager for
butter and fats, Tesco
“Working in the dairy department brings many challenges but also many opportunities. We have a wealth of
talent in the UK and we can compete with the best producers in the world”

Wilf Slee
Confectionery trading
manager, P&H
“I’ve always thought of myself as a people’s person and enjoy working with my colleagues and suppliers. I also like the relationship I have with competitors”

Graham Chadwick
Petcare buying manager,
“New product development is one of the best aspects of this job. Current NPD is all about premiumisation. All the research shows that owners are prepared to trade up for their pets”

Michael Simpson-Jones
HOT Beverages & breakfast
spreads buyer, Waitrose
“People browse this category and that’s what makes it more interesting as there are a lot of quality products. There is a good spirit in our buying team and I try to take that to suppliers”

Lorna Harrison
Buying manager, breakfast
cereal & preserves,Tesco
“You have got to have a passion for customers and the market in this business. You’ve got to do a better job than you did today and have unlimited drive, tenacity and motivation”

Gill Hope
Buyer, rice, pasta and
foreign foods, Asda
“I enjoy dealing with different suppliers and understanding what everyone is up to. There are huge product launches going on. It’s great that suppliers involve us on brand development”

All our nominated buyers
Ice cream buyers
CJ Antal-Smith buying manager, desserts & ice cream, Asda
Fleur Gavaghan buyer, frozen desserts, ice cream and ice cream complements, Sainsbury
Jo Smith trading manager, Palmer & Harvey McLane
Amanda Sprowson frozen food buyer, Waitrose
Siobhan Thornbury ice cream and frozen desserts buyer, Iceland
Keith Wright trading manager, frozen foods, Morrisons
Wines and spirits buyers
Suzie Cornwell senior wine buyer, Morrisons
Melissa Draycott spirits and fortified wine buyer, Sainsbury
Giles Fisher spirits buyer, Waitrose
Maria Gallup category buyer for wine, The Co-operative Group
Ben Wheeley lager and flavoured alcoholic beverages buyer, Sainsbury
John Wootton project manager, Tesco (was beers, wines and spirits buyer)
Soft drinks buyers
Peter Burleigh senior buyer of soft drinks, Morrisons
Charlotte Morey trading manager, soft drinks, Musgrave Budgens Londis
Stuart Owens ambient and chilled juice buyer, Waitrose
Zoe Parker buying manager impulse, Tesco
Catherine Parkin soft drinks buying manager, Asda
Spencer Playle non-carbonated soft drinks buyer, beers, wines and spirits, Sainsbury
Crisps snacks and nuts
Adrian Gash senior buyer, grocery, Waitrose
Heidi Jackson category manager, impulse, Musgrave Budgens Londis
David Jenkins category manager, Texaco
Allan Maxsted crisps, nuts and snacks buyer, Tesco
Andrew McTeare senior category buyer, crisps, snacks and nuts, Sainsbury
Alison Pearce buyer for crisps and snacks, Asda
Frozen food buyers
Sarah Bailey frozen foods buyer, The Co-operative Group
Louise Dunford buyer for ice cream and frozen desserts, Somerfield
Gareth Jones frozen ready meals and pizza buyer, Tesco
Jason Smith senior buyer, frozen, Sainsbury
Wendy White ice cream and desserts buyer, Tesco
John Wyatt buyer for frozen chips, potatoes, vegetables and frozen fish, Asda
Health and beauty buyers
Helen Burch buyer, Superdrug
Vanessa Campbell health and beauty buying manager, Tesco
Alex Holt health and beauty buying manager, Tesco
Jonathan Jordan health and beauty buyer, Wilkinson
Nigel Sharp health and well-being buyer, Waitrose
Chris Silcock buyer for men’s toiletries deodorants and dental care, Asda
Dairy buyers
Brigid Davidson senior buyer chilled, Iceland
Paul Dumbrell category manager dairy, The Co-operative Group
Nicola Lees dairy buyer yoghurts and active health drinks, Asda
Michael Luck chilled drinks buyer, Sainsbury
Della Myers team leader dairy trading team, Asda
Michael Seymour buying manager for butter and fats, Tesco
Confectionery buyers
Jo Cotton confectionery buyer, Woolworths
Lydia Gee confectionery buyer, The Co-operative Group
Keely Mason senior confectionery buyer, Sainsbury
Lisa Moore confectionery buyer, Morrisons
Sharon Segal buying manager, confectionery, Tesco
Wilf Slee confectionery trading manager Palmer & Harvey McLane
Petcare buyers
Graham Chadwick petcare buying manager, Asda
David Hall category buyer, petfoods and petcare, The Co-operative Group
Allan Peart petfood category buyer, Somerfield and Kwik Save
Kisteen Robb pet buyer, Sainsbury
Linda Whitaker senior petfood buyer, Morrisons
Jams, spreads and preserves buyers
Alison Atkin category buyer, Sainsbury
Aylie Cooke regional grocery buyer, Fresh & Wild
Michael Dew buyer, Morrisons
Roger Marshall grocery buyer, The Co-operative Group
Kate Pratt buying manager, Tesco
Michael Simpson-Jones hot beverages and breakfast spreads buyer, Waitrose
Cereal buyers
Stuart Hargreaves senior buyer, Morrisons
Lorna Harrison senior buying manager, breakfast cereal, preserves, sugar and home baking, Tesco
Steve Hodson trading controller, The Today’s Group
Wendy Myers category buyer, cereals, Sainsbury
Andy Thomas buyer, retail grocery, Booker
Steve Wallace buyer, breakfast cereals, canned fruit & ambient desserts, Waitrose
Sauce buyers
Gill Hope buyer, rice, pasta and foreign foods, Asda
Vicky Hughes grocery buyer, canned cooking aids, sauces & pickles, Iceland
Louise Jones cooking sauces buyer, Sainsbury
Matthew Leyland buyer of international foods, Morrisons
Roger Marshall grocery buyer, The Co-operative Group
John Stokes grocery buyer, Waitrose