Q&A with Joanna Lynch from Waitrose

Ahead of this year’s Fair, we caught up with Joanna Lynch, Health, Medical and Wellbeing Buyer for Waitrose to find out what she looks for when attending…

Joanna has five years of experience in buying, having worked for two major UK retailers. She is currently just a few months into her role as Health, Medical and Wellbeing Buyer at Waitrose, having started in Fresh Food - which includes responsibility for Party Food, Soup, Meat Accompaniments and Vegetarian. Prior to this, Joanna had two and a half years of buying experience working at Tesco, after joining the Buying Graduate Scheme there. She started as a Graduate Trainee Buyer, and progressed to be a Buyer for the Delicatessen, Cheese and Olive Counters. 

Q: Why is Speciality & Fine Food Fair important to Waitrose?

We come every year for a ‘team day’ to get out and see the trends happening in the market, and to get closer to what our customers are looking for. It’s also really important to us as part of the Waitrose Way; we believe in long term relationships with our farmers and suppliers – this helps our customers get the best possible food and drink. Responsible sourcing is at the heart of what we do, so the buyers, technical managers and developers work closely with our suppliers to make sure we’re getting the best possible product for our customers.

This fair is a great opportunity to meet new suppliers and taste great new products – it’s always a really exciting, fun day out!

Q: What are you looking for at the show this year?

Something unique – something exciting, that our customers will love. You have to go with a totally open mind and explore all the avenues as you never know what you might find!

I’ve just moved categories so it’s a particularly exciting time for me to get to know the market better and hopefully find some hidden gems.  As a foodie, you always look at all the different product areas, even if you may not be responsible for that area – we all share ideas and share our passion across the business.

Q: Have you noticed any food trends?

Gluten free is huge at the moment but what’s key is to get these products to taste great, like they’re not ‘free from’, so our consumers don’t feel that they’re missing out on anything. Personalisation is still huge and how you offer this in the retail environment is the real challenge.

Health is the biggest trend of the moment. It’s such a personal issue that it’s a real challenge to get right – it means different things to different consumers. I now buy wellbeing and every day I get anti-ageing drinks, vitamins and aromatherapy style products, as it’s about the holistic wellbeing piece, as opposed to just physical health. Sports nutrition is a great example of something that has just become hugely mass market and really accessible.

Farming and back to basics is also really on trend at the moment, with products like bone broth – customers want simple, honest, great tasting food that’s good for them – that’s where Waitrose excels, so it’s a really exciting time for us.

Q: What tips can you give exhibitors looking to see their products in Waitrose?

  1. Buyers are always really busy; I look after over 70 suppliers on a day to day basis, so to add in any more you have to be really special – you have to stand out straightaway.
  2. Listen to what we have to say – there are timescales we have to adhere to and if it isn’t possible right now we will tell you, keep your details on file and come back to you. Persistence beyond this can be a waste of time for both the buyer and the exhibitor.
  3. Think about the category, the market and where you fit within that retailer’s range – don’t look at yourself in isolation.
  4. Technical is really important – make sure you have accreditation. Most of the big retailers won’t be able to take you on board unless you have SALSA or BRC. To supply own label, you need to go through rigorous own label factory audits, so know what you’re getting into before you offer this, as otherwise it comes across as a lack of understanding.
  5. Long emails don’t work! Have a quick-fire pitch.
  6. Make sure you know your stuff – retail is detail!!

Join Joanna and her team at the Fair this September, register now.