11 August, 2016

The right blend of ingredients

“When the opportunity arose to combine my wine trade background with a commercial buying role at M&S, I definitely couldn’t refuse. I was completely sold on the M&S’s drive to bring newness and innovation to market, together with their willingness to spend more time with the supply base than other retailers I’d worked for.

“We’re the only retailer that gets involved in creating and blending our own label Champagne. We have three full-time winemakers, one of whom is responsible for blending Oudinot Champagne. That’s a massive commitment; particularly since the blends made this year will then be laid down in the cellars in Champagne. It will be three years before they’re ready to be sold.

“Our sourcing strategy involves working with a range of long-term suppliers to deliver a range that has clear tiers that customers can understand. From our core brand, Oudinot, moving upwards to a range of Premier Cru, Grand Cru and Vintage Champagnes. This culminates in a range of luxury branded Champagnes. So there is something to excite at a range of price points and cater for different budgets.

“Wine, essentially, is an agricultural product. It’s affected each year by the health and size of the harvest. That makes quality and quantity tricky to manage as it’s ever changing. I love the breadth of producers that we work with and that we are spoilt for choice – for every producer we work with there are hundreds of other great producers that we have to turn down. If only we had more space on our shelves.

“A good wine buyers understands what customers want and delivers it in a way which enables the category to hit its sales and profit targets. As I became more established as a buyer, I’ve put more emphasis on developing my leadership and management capabilities. I now have three line reports in the team and the most satisfying part of my job now is seeing them succeed.

“In terms of my own development, M&S is sponsoring me through the Master of Wine qualification. Typically, takes five-seven years to complete. There are only 350 people globally that hold this qualification; so it is a huge challenge. I passed the theory element of the exam last year which was a big coup.

“Integrity is a key aspect in making buying decisions. Our South African wine range is a testament to that. We’ve significantly grown our range of Fairtrade wines and I’ve seen the benefits this has brought to local communities first hand. Improved access to education, and the peace of mind vineyard workers have from knowing their children are being looked after in a proper crèche or school is just one of these.

 “There is a culture at M&S that allows me the freedom to take calculated risks in order to deliver innovation. Take our recently launched wines from New York State for instance. We’re the first retailer to launch these and, while they may not be high volume lines, we’re willing and able to give them a go. So far sales have exceeded expectations.

“We’ve achieved a great deal as a team. We’ve won retailer of the year at all the three major wine competitions for three years running and have more medals for our wines than any other retailer. But it’s still our customers’ seal of approval that matters most.”

Inside M&S