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Buyers shuffle at Asda as Sainsbury's triumphs

Published:  23 July, 2008

In the week that its closest rival, Sainsbury's, was made IWC Supermarket Retailer of the Year, Asda has become the latest of the major multiples to make big changes to its buying team.

The UK's second-biggest retailer and third-biggest wine retailer has made its long-serving head wine buyer, Sara Brook, redundant and replaced her with Philippa Carr MW. Carr, who has worked in all aspects of the wine trade, from shipping to retail, and was wine trading director at Spar before taking a career break to raise a family, has been taken on to ensure that we increase our focus on quality selection', the company said in a statement.

As part of our on-going commitment to offering value for money as well as quality across the store, Asda is in the process of restructuring its BWS category,' the statement continued. As Harpers went to press, it was not clear if Carr was to be the only wine selector on the team.

It's early days for me. There haven't been any decisions on the range and we are still looking at the structure [of the team],' Carr told Harpers.

Brook, meanwhile, is to start her own wine consultancy, advising companies on the UK retail sector, and focusing on ranging, sourcing opportunities and new product development. She told Harpers: After 15 years of buying wine and visiting every wine-producing country, I questioned whether I would find another career that would be as exciting and demanding. However, starting your own business is a phenomenal challenge, and I feel even more excited about this than I did when I first joined the wine trade all those years ago.'

Staff numbers are also an issue at Sainsbury's. As the retailer celebrated adding the IWC crown to last year's IWSC European Retailer of the Year award, it emerged it would not be recruiting another buyer to replace Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, who is moving to Waitrose later this month. The company also announced that it was considering replacing its Classic Selection premium own-label range with a Taste the Difference' range, in line with other food and drink products.

Jane Hughes, wine category manager at the multiple grocer, commented: This is thanks to the dedication and hard work put in by our teams, right through from store colleagues to our expert buyers. Our recent focus has been to improve the "shopability" of the wine aisle, with an introduction of 85 new wines and a wide selection of beers and spirits.'

Speaking at the Sainsbury's autumn tasting held the day before Sainsbury's victory was announced, buyer Laura Jewell MW told Harpers: Justin's portfolio will be shuffled around; it hasn't been confirmed yet but Helen McEvoy will be taking on his Spanish portfolio.' McEvoy is a former graduate trainee who has been working for Sainsbury's for one year.

On the issue of the Classic Selection change, Jewell said Sainsbury's has done research which showed that Taste the Difference had a far higher rate of recognition for the consumer than Classic Selection. Although Taste the Difference lines have been used in the beer and cider categories, no wines have so far been sold under the label. We're doing a test now with two Sherries, a 12-year-old Amontillado, and a 12-year-old Oloroso [both produced by Lustau]. If the sales go well, we may well move over the whole range sometime in the spring,' she said.

Sainsbury's unveiled 53 new lines at the tasting, including its first-ever own-label English wine - Sainsbury's English Dry White NV (5.49). Little Penguin, FGL' Wine Estate's critter' brand, originally designed for the US market, was also on show, with sales in the UK having reportedly been 'phenomenal', since the Sainsbury's launch in June.