An F&B expert with a passion for problem solving
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
"A typical day at Beacon? There isn't one." Meet our Food & Beverages Category Manager, Tim Nichol.
Here at Beacon, we’re an approachable, informal, and friendly bunch of experts who always put our customers first. We love getting to know the people we work with, which is why we’re launching a brand new monthly feature that can help you get to know our team a little better, too.
To kick things off, we grabbed 5 minutes with Tim Nichol, Category Manager for Food & Beverages, to talk procurement careers, product shortages, and… well… spreadsheets.
Hi Tim! Could you start by telling us about your background?
“Sure - after university, I joined a small family company as a graduate analyst. That job was all about providing data and insights into all aspects of running the company, from cost-benefit analysis to identifying the highest ROI product and brand options. You can see where I was heading, even back then!”
“I ended up running their small retail division where I learned a lot, before bringing that knowledge to Beacon - first as an analyst, then as part of the procurement team.”
“Fast forward to now and I’m CIPS level 5 qualified, which is aimed at senior buyers, contract managers, and supply chain managers. At Beacon, I’ve spent time both front and back of house, but my current role involves getting to the bottom of our customers’ needs, identifying the best solution for their challenges and ensuring it’s as cost-effective as possible.”
What does a typical day at Beacon look like for you? “A typical day at Beacon? There’s no such thing! Most days include a lot of calls and meetings with account managers, customers, and suppliers to problem-solve issues, work together on opportunities and ensure we’re all pulling in the same direction. As you can imagine, my negotiation skills are frequently called upon! Recently there’s been a lot of emphasis on reviewing our markets for risk and opportunity – particularly trying to mitigate rising inflationary pressures.” “I also have responsibility for managing our private sector tenders. These are completely bespoke dependent on the needs of the customer. For example, the process could involve post-bid supplier negotiation, or it could be for one final bid only. I’m responsible for the full tender life cycle, from specification, market engagement, and bidding, to agreeing on the final award in conjunction with the customer. It can be a complex process, but it ensures a clear and transparent way of reviewing business for both our customers and suppliers. It also involves a lot of spreadsheets!
What do you enjoy most about your work?
“For me, it’s finding great results for our customers, whether that’s securing the best price on potatoes or the best solution for reducing food miles, considering price, quality, and service. Just knowing you’ve solved a business challenge for them that will have a tangible effect on their bottom line is what makes all the hard work (and late nights!) worthwhile.”
The global supply chain crisis has been in the news a lot recently. What difference has this made to your day-to-day role?
“Right now, everything is less structured, everyone needs staff, prices are going up, and we’re all working to much shorter timescales. However, we’re focused on putting lots of strategies in place that can help us support our customers. Our suppliers are also learning how to adapt - and we’ve got to be just as agile, too.”
Do you think these issues have peaked? And when will things get back to normal? “The HGV driver crisis isn’t going to get significantly better immediately. But it will improve as the backlog of tests is dealt with and more drivers are trained. It will also take time to retrain and reskill people for the general staff shortages we’re seeing across other sectors. There’s no quick fix, unfortunately, but the good news is that I don’t think it will get any worse – although this current situation may be here for a while yet.” Well, at least that’s something. Any more good news we can share? “Absolutely. We’re doing lots of fantastic work for our customers, even in these tough times. For example, we’ve recently saved over 15% on a drinks contract for a hotel, whilst also ‘premiumising’ their brand offering, plus we’ve supported a new company that manages a collection of properties in the creation of their menus, ensuring that they’re future proof, flexible and deliver great value for money. “Some of our suppliers are doing incredible things, too. M&J Seafood and fellow Sysco company Brakes recently won the Marine Stewardship Council’s Foodservice Wholesaler of the Year. Direct Seafoods also won the Fresh Fish Food Supplier of the Year. And Bidfood picked up the Supplier of the Year and the National Chairs award at the LACA awards. Plus, Fresh Direct has invested heavily into pioneering the joint supply of seafood, produce and dairy on one truck – already saving food miles and emissions for some of our customers. “Even when we’re all up against it, the quality of our suppliers always shines through.” Apart from that, why else should customers work with Beacon? “I like to think we're much more than just a procurement consultancy. We’re an extension of our customers’ teams, which means we can add unique value to the way they work. We roll up our sleeves and do whatever it takes to get the job done, whether that’s sorting out an incorrect invoice, managing a strategic procurement transformation project, finding great niche suppliers that share your company’s values, or anything else.” “We speak to thousands of customers and suppliers, so we know what a good deal looks like. More importantly, we know how to make sure it stays a good deal!” Any more words of wisdom? “The current global supply chain challenges are unprecedented and are hitting everyone hard - from high street food chains to the top five grocers. In such volatile times, we all need to work together and understand the small changes we can make to ease the pressure. And one of the most important things we can all do is take a planned approach to our purchasing.” “If we can get this right, there’s a much better chance that orders will be included in sales forecasts, and the impact of product shortages will hurt much less.” Thanks Tim, that’s great advice. Now… back to your spreadsheets! Don’t forget that food and beverage procurement can be a tricky process to navigate, which is why Tim and the rest of our highly skilled Procurement team are on hand to help. So, if you do need any advice, or you just want to make sure your current arrangements are still delivering value for you, get in touch with Tim on 01904 695472 or with your Beacon Procurement Services Manager.