Food buyers must have good taste, tact and keen market sense

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am


It is always a pleasure to shop in supermarkets. The various types of foods, ingredients and wines on display make you feel that the world has got everything it needs and is not likely to go hungry.

The impressive food collections are the result of the food buyers' hard work. They travel around the world in search of the best from nature's bounty. Food buyers must have a deep knowledge of the items they are sourcing and the culture they come from, says Winnie Chow, human resources director of Retail Hong Kong, AS Watson Group, who overlooks the HR function of the supermarket and food hall business of PARKnSHOP, Taste and Great.

'Our food buyers love to eat and have the curiosity of a cat when it comes to food,' she says.

The job of sourcing food requires good taste, tactful negotiation with suppliers and a keen market sense.

'Food buyers are excellent negotiators. They have to work out the best deal with suppliers. They are also outgoing as they spend time visiting stores and talking to frontline sales staff and customers to learn about the latest market situation,' she says.

The academic requirement for food buyers is a bachelor's degree. Fresh graduates start off as trainee buyers. 'We do not have a preference for a particular academic background, but knowledge in procurement is surely an advantage. Newcomers usually spend their first three months learning the buying process and familiarising themselves with the company's retail business,' Chow says.

After a year or two, trainee buyers can be promoted to assistant buyers, buyers and then senior buyers. Food buyers are assigned to a certain food section. Experienced buyers will have to oversee a number of categories.

Generally, food buyers are stationed at the office and work five days a week from nine to six. They also make regular visits to the sales department to get market updates.

They travel overseas to search for ingredients, and they get ideas from attending food expos and trade shows.

'The food buyers' job is challenging so they have to be well-organised. Budget, stock management and promotional plans are the things that they have to take care of,' Chow says.

As buyers gain more experience, they can move up to management posts such as buying manager and trading director. The starting pay of an assistant buyer with two to three years' experience is HK$16,000. Salary depends on experience and performance.