The Grocer is like a “newspaper minus the sport” according to Editor-in-Chief Adam Leyland (@blogof), who spoke to us about the rewards and challenges of covering the “most important industry”, from inflation to societal issues. He also outlined The Grocer’s plans for digital transformation and the kind of journalists they’re looking for.
You've led The Grocer since 2006 - what do you find rewarding about working there?
It's the most fantastic publication for a vital, colourful and hugely diverse industry. Editorially speaking The Grocer is completely independent. We are the industry's critical friend and that is empowering in a number of ways. We have that scope to tell it like it is, to investigate wrongdoing, to name and shame. But where the industry has been unfairly wronged, or has done great work, we are there for our readers, while offering balanced reporting and the right of reply. Our coverage is therefore much more nuanced and sophisticated.
I'll give you two examples, one on each side. The first is Amazon's new response to the HFSS (high fat salt sugar) rules. We didn't hold back in our criticism. In the headline we called it an ‘utter shambles’. Equally, last week was our New Product Awards and there's lots of innovation out there. The overall winner was the Rustlers All-day Breakfast Pancake Stacks! And to me, what's wonderful about my job is that you can be investigating modern slavery in the supply chain, or Holland & Barrett’s non-payment of its bills to suppliers (to give you two more examples from this week), but also articles in praise of pancakes.
The Grocer is a really serious publication for a really serious industry, it deals with crises like horsegate and COVID, and the cost of living crisis, but it's also working with an industry that's great fun, creative and full of the little things in life that bring joy to people’s lives.
I always say The Grocer is like a newspaper minus the sport. We cover huge societal issues, whether that's food waste, food poverty, food insecurity, the economy, the state of Britain’s high streets, but there’s also technology, the environment, innovation, entrepreneurship, and there’s the David and Goliath dynamics between very large and very small companies as we’re seeing right now with the eggs shortage.
So it’s with good reason I've stayed 16 years and I'm not tired of what I'm writing about and what we’re doing, even today. We're not a tiny little B2B publication for a narrow little industry. We are the bible of the most important industry. As trade publications go, The Grocer is the biggest, the most important, the most interesting and the most colourful bar none.
What advice do you have the new or aspiring journalists wanting to work for a trade publication, or any publication?
There are two things I'd say. The first is that some of the old-fashioned journalistic traits and skills haven't gone away. The combination of technology and COVID might have encouraged people to think they can do their jobs without leaving their desk, and there’s no question technology has been a huge help, but I've found there is no substitute for that ability to meet people, to build relations, to network, to get stories.
Of course, if you're a massively experienced journalist and you've got a 1,000,001 contacts from pre-COVID years the inability to network wasn’t such an issue. But for new and aspiring journalists, the last couple of years have been really tough, without those networking opportunities. So, get out there! The lockdowns are over! Seize the opportunity to get out there!
And the other thing journalists don't always realise is it's not money that makes the world go round, it's people. People make the difference. You can write terribly clever stuff about technological developments, but readers are interested in people stories, about the people who've made the decisions that have turned the business round or fucked it up, it's always people that have done that, not machines.
Do you have any tips for PRs pitching to your team?
First tip, always read The Grocer. Be aware of what we've written, what we're writing. I get people chasing stuff and they chase several times despite the fact that we wrote the story within three hours of receiving the release. To be intelligent is to be informed and to be prepared. There are so many people who are just performing a function rather than engaging in the subject, understanding the story and understanding The Grocer is intrinsic to that.
We're in the middle of enormous crises for consumers - how is The Grocer approaching the cost of living crisis?
We've been onto this for a long time. We first wrote about oncoming inflation in about April 2021. It was one of our most read stories of the year, and as the supply chain issues built that summer it became increasingly obvious that inflation was coming down the track. Even last autumn the Bank of England was still saying inflation would be some preposterously low figure, and we simply couldn’t understand why they were that given what we were seeing. And that was before the Ukraine war.
We were also ahead of everyone on the implications of the Ukraine war. When rumours started to emerge I immediately commissioned reporters to investigate the ramifications. And we have continued to monitor the accelerating inflation through countless stories, countless investigations, at every level. It's at a SKU level, at a product level, at a category level, at a retailer level. We've also built new technological tools to monitor inflation, we've got another one coming out in the next week or so, called our KVI tracker (key value items), which is about tracking inflation across the most important and best-selling lines, from Coca-Cola to tinned tomatoes.
Of course, reporting on the cost of living crisis has been harrowing. But it’s also been fun. Like the Tesco bustup with Heinz. We broke that story. We broke the story on Tesco’s trade dispute with Colgate too.
And looking ahead, what does The Grocer have planned in 2023?
A really big area of focus for us is digital transformation. When I first came to The Grocer in 2006, our website was like an afterthought, we had one person working on it. Today everybody works on the website. We've made huge progress. The traffic on our site is extraordinary – 11 million page impressions, which is going some for a publication with a paywall. It's a massively popular site, but there's so much more we can do.
We have multiple newsletters, a really important social media presence, with 90,000 followers on LinkedIn, 60,000 on Twitter and 30,000 on Instagram, each one involving different strategies.
But we need to find new ways to convey what's going on out there. I want us to find different ways to tell stories in the digital space. There's just so much interest in what we write about. But it isn't just about writing articles, and it isn't just about pictures, it's about digital, interactive, podcasts, video, other ways of storytelling that I'm really, really interested in.
We actually have a vacancy right now for the Editor role on the website (www.thegrocer.co.uk), it’s a really important position for us, and a really interesting job, leading our daily coverage, liaising with section heads to ensure our website coverage is timely and dynamic, but also strategic, with responsibility for delivering digital transformation at every level, and growing our digital subscriptions even more.
We would love to hear from any journalists, new and aspiring, or experienced, about working for The Grocer. We do fantastic stuff. We win lots of awards, the subject could not be more interesting if you're a business journalist, but frankly, if you are any sort of human being! I know so many people in the industry who say that they compete with their own children to read The Grocer on a Saturday morning. Who isn't interested in all the things that we write about? You never have a problem at a dinner party mentioning that you work for The Grocer and and it's also been a great stepping-stone for a lot of young, brilliant journalists over the years. But there are lots of opportunities to do great journalism but also for promotion here on The Grocer, and it always looks great on your CV because B2B-wise there is no publication that's better known or well respected than The Grocer.
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