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Our Keynote Speaker

Mel Smith CBE, CEO of Ocado Retail,

the world’s largest dedicated online supermarket

Formed in August 2019, Ocado Retail is a 50-50 joint venture between M&S and Ocado Group. It is responsible for, online pet store Fetch and Ocado Zoom, a one-hour grocery service. Ocado Retail serves 350,000 households a week, and has a 15% share of the UK online grocery market.

Mel has had an impressive career in the food and retail industry to date. She began her career at McKinsey, where she spent 12 years and became a Partner, gaining extensive experience advising leading grocery retailers on their operations. She left McKinsey in 2009 to join TalkTalk as the Executive Director of Operations and Integrations, and subsequently moved to Bupa to serve as the Global Marketing and Strategy Director. In 2017, Mel joined Marks & Spencer as Strategy Director, before being appointed as the CEO of Ocado Retail in August 2019. She is also on the Board of Directors of SSE plc and is a Trustee of Sadler’s Wells.

It is also wonderful to announce that Mel has been awarded a CBE, for Services to Retail and the Food Supply Chain during the Covid 19 response, in the New Year Honours list. 

Mel’s first year at the helm was as demanding as they get.

Alongside navigating the challenges we all faced during the pandemic, Mel ensured that as many customers as possible (particularly those most in need) were able to use Ocado’s services safely during the height of lockdown and beyond.  This was all while touring the country to make sure the  frontline colleagues were safe and well and working closely with the excellent teams at Ocado Group who were working tirelessly to keep our operations up and running. Many congratulations to Mel and the team.

The title of the City Food Lecture 2021 will be 

‘The role of new technology in the future of UK food retailing’.

She will discuss how Ocado’s model overcomes the challenges facing traditional retailers in serving customers online, and share plans for future online innovation.

We welcome your questions and comments in advance so please e mail them to Fiona:

The Panel Chair

Charlotte Smith

Charlotte Smith is a freelance journalist and broadcaster specialising in food, farming and rural affairs. She is a presenter on
BBC 1’s Countryfile and BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today.

Our Panel

Charlie Bigham

James Walton , Chief Economist, Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD)

IGD is a research and training charity which sits at the heart of the food and grocery industry.

Laura Winningham, Chief Executive, City Harvest

It all started in 1994 when, in a maverick move, Charlie quit his job to go travelling in India. Captivated by the tastes, colours, textures and aromas of the cuisine, he decided to set up a food business. By 1996 he had done just that. After perfecting three dishes in his home kitchen – Caribbean Lamb, Cajun Chicken and Salmon with a Dill Sauce – he went knocking on doors and managed to find some upmarket London food shops who were up for stocking him. Then Waitrose were interested. Then Sainsbury’s. Then Tesco. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

James’ role at IGD is to help businesses anticipate and cope with strategic events, including: economic pressures, geo-political change, social developments and environmental stress.
James is well known for speaking at both UK and international events and provides interviews for TV, radio and the press. He also creates original reports and articles for IGD.
James has worked with clients across the entire grocery industry as well as with non-industry groups such as government departments, financial businesses and NGOs.
James joined IGD in April 1999 and has served in several roles, becoming Chief Economist in 2004.

Laura Winningham co-founded City Harvest in 2014 with the dream of matching the abundance of surplus food from businesses with the millions of people in the UK that face food insecurity. In London, where the charity was launched, 9.2 million meals are missed by those facing food insecurity each month while food for 13.3 million meals is wasted by food businesses. City Harvest provides an elegant solution by delivering surplus food for more than 200,000 meals each week to more than 300 charities. Tons of greenhouse gas emissions are prevented by diverting edible food from landfill where it would otherwise decompose and pollute the environment. City Harvest helps make the planet more sustainable while helping London’s most vulnerable, including the homeless, disadvantaged children, refugees, people facing social isolation and those fleeing domestic violence.

Laurs Winningham

Before City Harvest, Laura was based in both Hong Kong and New York City where she was an portfolio manager at CRI Media Partners, an equity fund focused on media and telecommunications. Prior to that Laura was head of investments at 2 family offices, with both public and private portfolios under management. Laura began her career in investment banking, as a corporate finance associate with an expertise in alternative energy and communications.   Laura had been an advocate for food rescue, supporting a New York charity that rescued surplus food. Astonished that no solution for rescuing fresh, perishable food existed in London she decided to make a change.  Laura has an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BSc in Agricultural Economics from Cornell University. 

Since its inception, City Harvest has rescued and delivered 14,000,000 meals to those in need.