Our very own Ros Windsor, has just been named an “Icon of the Industry” in Speciality & Fine Food Magazine. Ros has been Managing Director of Paxton & Whitfield for the last 17 years; leading the team responsible for our four cheese shops in London, Bath & Stratford-upon-Avon, the launch and growth of our online cheese shop and our wholesale cheese sales to hoteliers and retailers.
We catch-up with Ros for her thoughts on being celebrated as a British food icon and her advice for the future of the industry.
How does it feel to be celebrated as a food icon?
Very surprising and very flattering; particularly when listed against the very illustrious other names. I’ve always felt it best just to get on with doing what you think is the right thing to do, without worrying what others think of you. Its surprising therefore to hear that anything has been noted!
What made you decide to get into the food industry?
Having spent the first half of my career in professional services, I wanted to work with something more tangible, that I could feel excited about. Food has always been an important part of my life – there is nothing I enjoy more than sitting round the table with family and friends over a meal.
When Paxton & Whitfield was bought in 2001, the new owner approached me to see whether I’d be interested in running it. That was not a difficult decision!
What has been the highlight of your food career so far?
There have been so many highlights. I love spending time with producers who care so much about their product; it’s a responsibility therefore to ensure this care and enthusiasm is communicated to the end consumer. It's rewarding to spend time with people in the business and see them grow and develop into the food icons of the future. Then, there are the times that I've tasted a cheese which made me stop and go wow!
Paxton & Whitfield has been selling cheese for over 200 years. How do you continue to make cheese engaging to consumers?
We never stand still and always consider how our customers access the cheese – both to buy and learn about it. We were one of the first cheese retailers to sell online, one of the first to offer a cheese subscription and one of the first to supply wedding cheese cakes. Our team are focused on delivering a strong social media presence; including our popular cheese podcasts. We were also at the forefront in launching Level 1 Academy of Cheese training courses and have just launched Level 2 of the Academy of cheese development programme.
It's also important to never lose sight of our product quality - ensuring that the cheeses and fine foods that we sell are of the highest quality at all times and training our staff to understand and communicate the quality and provenance.
How has the cheese/food retail environment changed in the last 17 years since you have been Managing Director?
The landscape has changed hugely. There is a much wider customer base now. A broader section of the population care about quality cheese with provenance. Many people are better informed too, and this can only be good for the artisan industry. I think the Academy of Cheese has an important role to play in developing this further. There are many more things that we need to consider now. When I started it was just about offering a strong in-store experience, now you have to be projecting yourself across a much wider route to customers. Plus, we now have a world-beating British cheese industry, both in terms of quality and quantity.
After 17 years in the industry, are you still passionate about cheese and if so, why?
Definitely! It's a fantastic product and an industry with momentum behind it. I also work with great people (suppliers/customers and my team!)
What advice would you give to foodies looking to make their mark on the industry?
Don’t look to make your mark on the industry! Find something that you care about and pursue it consistently and persistently. That is what I believe is the consistent theme between the outstanding people who have been identified on the list.
What’s your favourite cheese of the moment?
Its impossible to ask a cheesemonger what their favourite cheese is. For anyone who has the luxury of a range of cheese to choose from you can’t answer that… it depends whether you’re eating cheese at 8am in the morning or 8pm in the evening, the season, what else you’re eating or drinking etc.