Tesco senior buyer Mark Grant has over 23 years of experience unearthing great UK produce. In 2008, he returned to his Welsh roots with sights set on local sourcing across Wales, the West Midlands and the Isle of Man. This year, he’s been at food and farming events including the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show
What does your role involve?
I’m lucky enough to work with over 650 products from 95 suppliers across my region. It’s important to get out and about, meeting people at agricultural shows, visiting suppliers and spending time in our stores.
How do you find new suppliers?
We are always on the lookout. It’s made much easier by the fact that I’m right here among the producers, rather than based in a big office in the city; it’s often just a 15-minute drive down the road to visit a producer. We actively look for suppliers by conducting gap analysis of areas that we want to develop and grow, and we are often approached directly by the supplier or get referrals and recommendations from store managers.
Which regional products are the most exciting?
There are plenty of iconic foods in and around Wales, from sausages and cheeses to Welsh cakes, lamb and lava bread. There can be quite distinctive tastes in Welsh food – there’s a liking for stronger flavours that goes way back. Welsh cheeses and butter tend to be on the saltier side: this might be down to the mining heritage, when hard work left miners dehydrated and craving salt.
What do you look for in a producer?
Good quality is essential and the next thing I look for is passion from the supplier. The majority of people I speak to own their businesses, many of which are family set-ups. We look for mainstream, everyday value-for-money products that we can sell good volume of.
How do you introduce local products to Tesco shops?
I like having the flexibility to match the number of stores to the volume the supplier can offer. It means that smaller suppliers and ranges can be stocked in fewer stores, allowing the supplier to build and learn steadily with us. Just Love Food Company’s celebration cakes are a great example of moving to national availability, and Frank’s Ice Cream is another example as the vanilla diabetic ice cream recently went national too.
What are the benefits of supporting local suppliers?
Local foods have an identity, so you know you’re not just in any shop across the country. There’s been an 18% uplift in customers shopping for local products, which makes you realise how communities benefit. We’ve made massive progress but we’re just scratching the surface – there are so many great stories and new products to discover.
How do you promote local products?
There’s a strong, supportive fan base looking to buy local, so we position recognisable brands alongside local foods. We do a lot of work to flag these products in store, and tastings create a great atmosphere and reconnect customers with where their food comes from.
How important is the Royal Welsh Show and other shows around the country?
We’ve been to four agricultural shows so far this year, starting with Cornwall followed by the Three Counties in Malvern, then to the Royal Highland before rounding off in Wales. Each one is a chance to invite our producers for a cup of tea and a chat, and to communicate to our customers all of our great sourcing stories.