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The Elite Club….that is Food & Drink Manufacturing.

The Food & Drink Industry? Is that even a job? Well that’s what I thought when I was at school. It was never talked about and when I met with the schools’ Careers Advisor, I was recommended to become a flower arranger or a lawyer.  Even at the age of 16 when I knew very little, I knew that there was no correlation between the two. So I did a BTEC before going off to University and it was here that I discovered the food & drink industry but not as I know it now.

Every summer during the mid 90’s I worked in a pea factory, speaking to the suppliers in the field, telling the lorries which bulk feeder to drop the peas into, working out how long it would take for them to go through the factory and into the freezer. Terminology such as “production planning” didn’t even register as each summer we sat in a porter cabin in a yard, listening to the radio, working 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 8 weeks to pay off the overdraft. We discussed a new girl band called the Spice Girls (“they’ll never make anything of themselves” we concluded), instead of calling “Process 1 to contact Process 2” over the tannoy to the whole factory one summer evening we announced that David Beckham had been sent off in an England match before we attempted to shove as many hula-hoops into a colleagues mouth and then make him answer the telephone spluttering them everywhere. And we loved it. We worked hard, we played hard.

After I graduated, I got an office job to get some office experience, working for United Biscuits inputting orders for Linda McCartney meals. During this time, Linda McCartney died and I just sat there inputting data for depots such as Okehampton and Fakenham. It all meant nothing as my main focus was leaving Grimsby and going out into the big wide world.

With the office experience, I secured my first job and off I went to London but food & drink only featured after 5.30pm, until 2002 when I applied for a job with a wine company as an Accounts Assistant. I didn’t really like wine, I didn’t really like Accounts but it was based in Leeds and I liked Leeds. I saw the advert in the Yorkshire Post so I printed off my 2 page CV on a different colour paper so it would stand out, posted it and I was invited for an interview. The rest is history.

From wine I moved into chilled food and wow, who knew it could be so exciting and fast paced. I worked in offices that didn’t have daylight, that were above freezers so I always wore a fleece and had a small heater by my feet which made my legs resemble corned beef. And I worked bloody hard, and I worked crazy hours, under great pressure, trying to meet the demands of the major supermarkets. I worked at weekends to send reports over for 8.30am on a Monday morning, did the retailers even read these reports? I’d then drive around as many supermarkets as I could to check the RSP’s on shelf before getting in to the office when I’d speak to Production and Supply Chain in preparation for a 1pm conference call where we’d have to explain service level, in store waste, poor sales, what we’d do to drive sales and reduce waste.  Everyone around me thought I was lazy, or late, waltzing into the office mid-morning, setting up my laptop before going to see the Production Manager before grabbing some lunch and eating it at my desk at high speed at 12.58pm before the naming and shaming in front of all your competitors.

And then the week would start. Working across 2 manufacturing sites with 3 clients, one in Leeds, one near Bristol and one in the North West. I was clocking up +30,000 miles a year, leaving the house in the dark and getting home in the dark, pulling onto junction 25 of the M1 and thinking “Am I going north or south today?” And I’d get into the office at 11am and hear snide comments about how late I was or was I now working part time? Little did they know, I’d already been to a meeting in Leeds, called into the other manufacturing site 60 miles away and driven back down to Leicestershire, all before 11am. And the demands would come in from my customers, category reviews needed by close of play in 3 days’ time, Promotional funding needed to be increased, investment for growth, 2 for’s had been introduced and sales were growing week on week, fuel surcharges were implemented, inflation on raw materials, consumer insight needed doing, more price inflation talks, internal forecasting, reforecasting, Joint Business Plans, Online shopping took off, the consumer was being braver with flavours that they bought but they were working harder so they were time poor & cash rich which was great for our category, shelf space was tight so I spent so many hours in a pretend supermarket on the outskirts of Leeds fighting for space with category competitors, Christmas planning started the first week in February….the list was endless. And I loved it.

Until illness struck my family and December 2010 happened. If you worked in food & drink during this time, you are probably haunted by this time. I saw -27 degrees on the dashboard of my car on the way to work one morning at silly o’clock, the factory was struggling to pump the raw materials in for production, and roads were regularly at gridlock because of the extreme weather conditions. I’d spent the Saturday before Christmas in a Coldstore in Grimsby (that place haunts me I’m sure!) watching Christmas products for M&S defrost and be sent out to store. I hadn’t had a day off for months and was regularly being woken up at 6.30am on a Saturday to say the new retailer system had failed and the factory had not received an order. Then on the 21st December at 7am on the way to work, a lorry wiped me out. How I walked away with just a few bumps & bruises I’ll never know. And my boss called me straight away and asked how I was planning on getting to the office as it was Christmas and I was needed. I got a lift home, went to bed and sobbed. Not only had the lorry hit me & my car at 30mph, but so had the enormity of what I’d put my mind and body through for the last couple of years.  The romance was over. I was exhausted, miserable, stressed, and incredibly unhappy.

So I emailed my CV to some recruiters saying I wanted a change but I wanted to build on the experience I had. And I resigned from my job, with no job to go to. Brave or Stupid? And that’s when recruitment came knocking, recruiting into the food industry. And I LOVE my job! And I’ve fallen back in love with the food & drink industry!

Winhurst Recruitment is 3 years old now and I never want to lose the passion I have for the food & drink industry. I was pushed to the brink but unless you’ve worked in it, you never fully understand it. It’s the fine line of pleasure versus pain.  

So if you work in the food & drink industry, be really proud of what you achieve every day. No day is the same, you can prepare for every eventuality but the unexpected always smacks you in the face, followed probably very closely by a smack in the face from the retailer you’re dealing with. But I hope you are as lucky as I was. I found my 2nd family working in this industry. I will always have lifelong friends because of this unique club that I was a member of. We reminisce and cry with laughter at what we did and how we got through the day. I cannot repeat most of the stories for obvious reasons (and you’re probably smiling at all the stories that are now popping in your mind of a similar ilk) but having a colleague colour in a presentation in the back of my car as I’m driving at 90mph up the M1 will always make me smile. Her colouring crayons were green, orange and red, bet you can guess what meeting that was for! And if you’ve never worked in this sector, I hope you get the lucky break I did as it’s one of the best, and worst things I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t change it for a second. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FoodJo Richardson