28 July, 2016

The best of the bunch

“Unsurprisingly, the two weeks of Wimbledon are one of our busiest sales peaks on fruit, particularly strawberries. We see up to a 20% uplift over the two weeks and strawberries are usually the first thing customers see when they come into store. This is supported with great marketing and other deals. We spend months working with suppliers and growers to plan for the strong increase in demand and make sure we have enough strawberries to fill our shelves. We’re always learning, however, and each year is different. So we spend time after Wimbledon analysing sales to help with next year’s planning.

“It’s been an interesting journey to where I am now. It started back in 2003 when I became a Foods Section Manager. Everyone recognises M&S as an iconic high street brand; it’s renowned for its products too. These were the two main factors that brought me here. From Foods, I joined the Retail Graduate Scheme, followed by stints in four different stores. Next came a Head Office move to work in our Wine Category; I became a trainee buyer in 2007 and have worked in several categories, including Bakery, Desserts, Frozen and Meat & Poultry.

“The opportunity to travel the world is probably the best thing about my job. I get to meet a wide variety of growers and try their exceptional products, before serving them up for our customers to enjoy. The great thing about M&S is that we’re always ready to innovate. This inspires our customers to be passionate about our brand; and the team to be passionate about delivering for them.  

“A good buyer seeks out products that will delight our customers. There’s always a standard to meet or benchmark to exceed. Value and price are key across the board. In Fruit, it’s all about size, shape, colour and flavour. We work extensively with growers from all round the world to source, develop and grow only the best varieties which will delight our customers every time. We also work with breeding companies to identify and develop the varieties of the future. These may take up to five years to get to our shelves, so we’re always looking a long way ahead.

“The main challenge with buying fruit is you’re at the mercy of the weather. Good weather can really help drive customer demand and sales but, equally, poor weather can affect how quickly fruit develops on the plant and can lead to issues with customer availability. The challenge is how you manage the gap between supply and demand. The relationships we’ve built with suppliers mean they are passionate about delivering what we need, so we’re well placed to deliver for our customers.

I’ve worked for M&S for 13 years now and there’s never been a time when I haven’t felt challenged or not wanted to learn more. I have had the opportunity to work across many different areas of the business, in stores and in Head Office, as well as across a number of key food categories. I’ve always felt supported and encouraged to try something new. As long as what you want to do is well thought out and you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve then it’s all to play for.

Inside M&S