Finding his inner foodie

The Food Company at Marks Tey in Essex is remarkable for many things. It stocks the finest fresh produce and high quality ingredients and has been compared to the fifth floor at Harvey Nicols. It also stands out from the crowd in the way it treats people, and that includes its customers and its staff.

Graham Briggs first encountered the Food Company on a work experience placement because, quite simply, it was close to home. After two weeks, however, he realised that he was enjoying himself and started to discover his inner ‘foodie’. He was offered a Saturday job with the company and worked through college, where he was studying to become an accountant like his father. His experience at the Food Company, however, made him believe that with hard work he could progress far beyond the rank of ‘shelf stacker’. He was right and now, at the age of 21, is proud to be the fine groceries buyer with a team of staff reporting to him. As such he is responsible for most of the dry goods and non-perishables in the shop from pasta to pickles, condiments to candy.

“Maths was my strong point and I knew that accountancy is a good career,” he says reflecting on his college choices, “but I suddenly realised that I didn’t want to sit in an office all day.”

So, when he left college at 18 he negotiated a full time contract with the Marks Tey food emporium.

At that time the company had just introduced a scheme whereby staff were trained to be multi-skilled so they could work in every department. A stint at the butchers and green grocers, on the deli and in the kitchens, as well as working on the shop floor and behind the scenes all gave Graham a good grounding in every aspect of the business. He has done everything from making kebabs and jam tarts to serving in the restaurant. He can fillet a fish, tie a joint of meat and make kebabs and has tasted more cheeses than most connoisseurs. He is also very keen on delivering excellent customer service.

“Right from the start I learnt about the food; I love our food. I started in the deli and had the chance to taste so many different cheeses and really learn about them and develop an appreciation for good food.

“It is important to understand what we are selling and to be able to talk to customers and answer their questions. I am no butcher or fishmonger but I have the knowledge to work in those departments and the skills to jump in if I need to. That’s an important part of how the place is run and what makes my job so interesting.”

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With the buyer’s role came more responsibity. He now orders goods for his department and sits on a taste panel with colleagues to try new products. He helps keep the appeal of the Food Company, which aims to be neither supermarket nor farm shop but something unique in the middle, fresh and exciting by seeking out new things to try. He also negotiates with suppliers.

“This shop likes to be different from anything else and making decisions about what to stock is such a responsibility but I love it and it is such a pat on the back when sales increase and you get it right. If something doesn’t work then you learn from that too.”

His latest discovery? Bacon jam, which is says is “delicious with a full English breakfast or with cheese”.

It is clear from talking to Graham that he relishes every day at work and is glad that a middle management role came along quickly.

“I am not afraid to get my hands and when I need help with a certain situation I will always go and find a manager to understand best how to handle certain situations.

“Everyday I deal with something new and I know there is plenty more to learn and I love every minute.

“When people ask me where I work I am so proud to say The Food Company.”