John Taylor has worked in the Procurement Team at innocent drinks since 2011, before which he had been part of the innocent sales team. As someone who is passionate about procurement and with in-depth experience of sustainable sourcing of fruit from many corners of the globe, John is without doubt a Procurement Adventurer. Over a couple of cortados at one of John’s favourite coffee shops (Fred & Ginger, Berkhamsted), John shared a number of insights into his procurement adventure.
How has your procurement adventure evolved over your career?
2007 – joined innocent drinks as a Sales Manager.
2011 – made the great decision to move over to Procurement – honed my skills sourcing berries, tropicals, citrus and botanicals.
2014 – Stepped up to lead the Procurement Team. This super talented and fun group kept me on my toes as did the fruit (being a natural product, it knows how to give you the run around!).
2019 – I’ve come full circle as I head back into the world of Sales, now heading up the UK team.
Which aspects of procurement do you most enjoy?
Two things stand out: First, innocent has a wide range of suppliers spread around the world. We get to work with some incredible people – one day I might be in an Indian mango orchard discussing this year’s crop with a farmer passionate about his or her small-holding. Soon after I could be on a trip to South America hunting for new and exciting ingredients. I’ve learnt so much from the exposure to these different cultures.
Second, the characteristics and supply chains of each and every ingredient are different, making for fascinating learning. The strawberry seasons across Europe are a good example with Spain producing fruit over a 5-month period whereas Polish strawberries tend to crop within a tight 4-5 week window. This always produces interesting and differing market dynamics depending on supply and demand factors.
"Just talking about it now places me right back in the tropics!"
Sourcing fruit, you must have been to some amazing places and met some brilliant people – which place or person most stands out for you?
Every place I have visited has its own unique charm but for me Costa Rica stands out above all others. It has a rich biodiversity from towering volcanoes and cloud forest to raging rivers and steamy coastal lowlands. Just talking about it now places me right back into the warm, damp and fragrant atmosphere of the tropics! We buy most of our banana and pineapple from our long-term suppliers in Costa Rica. I remember one farmer picking a perfectly ripe pineapple, and then with a few deft strikes of his machete cutting it up perfectly for me to try – fruit straight from the plant is so good and when we make our smoothies & juices we are always trying to give the consumer an experience as close to this one in Costa Rica.
What are the three most important skills to be an A-Star procurement professional?
1) the ability to build rapport and strong working relationships
2) negotiation and commercial acumen
3) analysis and research
The first two skills are self-evident, but the third relates to the ability to understand the wider context of what ever it is you are buying - e.g. the full end to end supply chain, foreign exchange rates, environmental pressures or geo-political dynamics*. For example, the China-US trade war has led to high tariffs being put on apple juice imports, resulting in more demand pressure on other markets such as Europe. This of course can change overnight, so one to watch. Then there’s the unknowns of Brexit which, as for so many other businesses, requires a huge amount of planning and preparation to ensure supply routes are maintained.
*On a note about geo-politics, during the course of the interview we discussed Tim Marshall’s excellent book called Prisoners of Geography. If you haven’t already read it, It’s a cracker and well worth a read.
How can Procurement help deliver a company's sustainability objectives?
Procurement can be a great force for good. We actively source from suppliers who have and intend to retain strong sustainability credentials. And we have the resources, skills and patience to support those suppliers who are earlier on their sustainability journey but have the full intent to become more proficient. Making gains in sustainability is an ongoing focus for the team and our suppliers as the job is never complete. This sustainable approach to buying our ingredients is supported from the CEO down, which means the right balance between cost and responsible sourcing can be achieved. Being idealistic, we’d love to work with our suppliers to help them to become B Corp certified themselves, and procurement would play a big role in supporting that journey.
"Everyone has sustainability on their objectives"
Last year innocent drinks gained B-Corp status. What does this mean for the company?
Becoming a B Corp was incredibly important for innocent. Since innocent started in 1999, we always believed in leaving things better than we found them. That meant investing in projects like protecting the Donana wetlands in Spain through innovative irrigation technology and putting recycled plastic in our bottles as far back as 2003. B Corp certification is an opportunity to certify that we are using our business as a force for good. It also shows that everyone in the business is bought into making sure both people and the environment are front of mind when making business decisions (and everyone in the company has sustainability as one of their annual objectives). Looking to the future, we will use our B-Corp status as a means to continue challenging ourselves and those around us to work in the most responsible way possible.
How do you see Procurement evolving over the next 10 years?
From our perspective of sourcing ingredients from around the world, Climate Change is the single biggest dynamic at play and we need to face into it. I can picture an ever greater need to collaborate across the industry in order to tackle climate related challenges and a need to move away from tactical short-sighted procurement techniques. An example of this is the water conservation project that innocent has been part of for the past 10 years in Southern Spain where we source our strawberries. The challenge was how to help protect the wetlands of the Donana national park one of Europe’s most ecologically important wetlands, which boarders the strawberry growing region in Huelva. So, a cross project team was formed from parties across the industry including Retailers who buy fresh strawberries from the area and university academics with the aim of reducing the amount of water it takes to grow strawberries. In the 2017/18 season, farmers have collectively saved 440 million litres of water as a result of this project. This is a great example of facing into a challenge and genuinely leaving things better than we find them.
for more details see: www.innocentdrinks.co.uk/us/sustainability
What trends do you see in Procurement at the moment?
I have certainly noticed a trend towards embracing tech into procurement ways of working. There will always be a valuable need for procurement professionals to establish strong supplier relationships, however technology can be utilised to perform many of the time-consuming admin tasks and help provide better analytical insights. Using tech in the right way will free up more value adding time for people working in procurement.
What are the characteristics of the best supplier you have ever worked with?
The best suppliers are proactive in coming up with great new ideas – maybe utilising new fruit varieties, trialling more effective ways to harvest the fruit, or proposing a way to benefit the local community. In case things don’t go to plan, they are full of possible solutions. And we tend to find honest two-way communication makes life so much easier.
What does Supplier Relationship Management mean to you?
At innocent we place huge emphasis in partnering with our suppliers to ensure our ingredients meet our strict quality, safety and sustainability standards. We don’t just meet our suppliers regularly; we try to listen to them and understand them as people and what makes their businesses tick – what they find easy and what is causing them angst. It’s about having open dialogue with them to create joint business plans and to work through challenges in a collaborative manner. Of course, we measure their performance through transparent KPIs, but we expect them to feedback on how we are doing as well.
I’ve heard you soon start an exciting new role at innocent – tell us about it.
After many happy years in the Procurement Team I have taken on a new challenge at innocent as the UK Commercial (Sales) Director. I am lucky to be moving into another great team and am looking forward to delivering the ambitions of innocent over the coming years.
What will you miss about procurement and what are you looking forward to in your new role?
I will certainly miss the procurement team and my supply colleagues. I have learnt a huge amount about our ingredients and where they are grown, which has expanded my mind for sure. I will also miss working with our suppliers as I have built many good working relationships over the years as we have been on our great fruit journey together.
Mango or raspberries?
Mountains or sea?
David Attenborough or Steve Bagshaw?
Running or Cycling?