March 2018

Getting to know Steve Barnes, CEO of GroceryAid, Drayton's chosen charity

‘Not long after I arrived here I sat down and had a cup of tea with someone who told me that GroceryAid had helped save their life…I love the fact that the charity gets to make a real difference.’

Welcome to the latest instalment in our THINK SMARTER SERIES, where Drayton asks an expert to share their story on a subject close to our hearts. This time we hear more about our chosen charity GroceryAid, and the passions, motivations and goals for CEO, Steve Barnes.

Steve Barnes, CEO of GroceryAid, talks about Kingsley Amis, his passion for ‘the best job in the industry,’ and how the contributions made by companies like Drayton Partners play a vital part in the success of the GroceryAid Ball.

‘If you want to understand me you need to understand Jim Dixon,’ says Steve, talking about the Kingsley Amis penned anti-hero of the 1954 novel, Lucky Jim. The book, it turns out, is one of his favourites. However, the man I am talking to does not really remind me of the famous author’s hapless and somewhat downtrodden lecturer at a provincial English university. For a start, the CEO of the grocery industry’s own charity is much more positive and upbeat than the fictional Jim.

‘I love this role,’ he tells me. ‘I love the fact that GroceryAid gets to make a difference which means that each day when I come into work all of us here get to make a difference too.

Not long after I arrived, I sat down and had a cup of tea with someone who told me that GroceryAid had helped save their life. Someone who had been suffering from suicidal thoughts who kept the number of our 24-hour help-line by their bed each night. It’s humbling when you hear a story like that.'

Founded 160 years ago, in, as Steve says, ‘the old tradition of Victorian benevolence’, GroceryAid now gives out over £4.5 million a year to those in need in the industry and, as evidenced by its innovative #notbuyingit campaign in the trade press, is, today, every inch a forward-facing organisation. Steve is proud of the recent campaign. ‘We wanted to do something different. Something that stood out from the crowd, that was unashamedly not about selling’ he says. ‘And I think we achieved that.’

#notbuyingit isn’t the only area in which Steve has been trying to connect the charity with a new, younger, audience. They are also launching the Barcode Festival, a music festival that debuts for the first time at Hawker House in London, in June of this year. ‘We are really excited about the Barcode Festival. We have some big name acts lined up that will surprise in a positive way! It is a way of building awareness of the charity with the industry’s coming generation,’ says Steve with real note of enthusiasm in his voice. He is just as passionate about the up and coming GroceryAid Ball and companies – like Drayton Partners and many others – who make a positive contribution to the evening.

‘I really want the industry to be collegiate and collaborative, and organisations like Drayton they really understand that. They play a key part in making the event a success. This year it’s at the Grosvenor House, we have big stars like Ronan Keating and Russell Kane as well as industry legends like Ranjit Singh and Andy Higginson…'

Once Steve starts talking about the charity and the difference it can make to the lives of ordinary people in the grocery industry he does not want to stop. After chatting to him for an hour, I am not sure he is right about Jim Dixon and himself. Steve has a twinkle in his voice and dry sense of humour just like Jim, yes, but, in the comic novel, Amis’s hero does not really believe he is lucky. The opposite, in fact. Everything Steve Barnes has told me about the job he calls ‘the best in the industry,’ assures me GroceryAid’s Chief Executive really believes that he is.

With special thanks to Steve Barnes and Chris Rickaby