Why work in the food industry?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In June 2011 I worked away from job as a Commercial Manager in the Food Industry to work in Recruitment. Some people thought I was insane and some people grinned from ear to ear in the same way I was. It had broken me. Not one part of it, a whole barrage of it. All I knew was some days I couldn’t physically get out of bed, my body as well as my mind was broken. One of the defining moments was driving back home one evening, I felt rotten and knew I had a load more work to do that evening. I should have pulled over, but I didn’t, I grabbed my empty lunch bag from the passenger seat and I threw up in it, whilst driving round a roundabout. A defining moment as well as a revolting moment.
As I learnt all about the corporate world of Michael Page and recruitment, I slowly started to fall back in love with Food Manufacturing. And 4 years in to running my own business where 90% of the recruitment that I have done has been food, I LOVE the food industry. And I love it for many many reasons. This morning I learnt about why the size of the packs of meat are so large in the supermarkets. Yesterday I learnt about the levy’s that farmers and processors pay for animals that are slaughtered. In fact, pretty much every phone call I have with a candidate or a client, I learn something new and I love it.
A candidate who hasn’t worked in food before recently told me that it would take him 2 days to learn about food manufacturing. Only people that work or have worked in this industry will know how funny (or insulting depending on your mood!) that statement is. Raw material comes into the factory, people put various raw materials together in a recipe, and a finished product comes out. You put it in a box, a lorry takes it to the supermarket, it goes on the shelf and the customer buys it. Simple? If only.
It is one of the most complex and fascinating industries. Raw materials can change due to environment and economic changes, factory break downs can happen due to power surges, old machinery or even for no reason. An accident on a major road can mean the lorry collecting the product is late, missing the allocated window into depot and if that happens, you can’t just drop off your pork pies with Asda and leave them there! The sun comes out and coleslaw sales go through the roof, England win at Football and everybody wants to celebrate. And if it’s sunny and England win, the spike in demand can be unprecedented depending on what product you make.
As a manufacturing business you can plan for everything and the unthinkable happens. Not unthinkable in a horrific way but just something that you never could plan to happen. I once had a phone call saying a customer had found a maggot in one of our products and was threatening to go the press. Brilliant, what do we do? Quick chat with the Head of Technical and it’s agreed I’m going to get in the car and drive to the store, meet with the customer and see if I can a) get the product so we can investigate and b) try to dilute the situation. So, where’s the store? Belfast! Turns out it was a corn borer and the poor little corn borer nearly spent an evening with my sister in laws family who live in Belfast, that’s how diverse you have to think. Thankfully with some quick thinking from our Customer Service Team, we managed to find a lorry driver who was heading back to the mainland in the UK and at 4.55pm on a Friday afternoon little Colin reappeared to where he started his journey. I mean, could you really plan for that?
And what really frustrates me is the lack of knowledge about the food industry for teenagers today. I spent my summer holidays as a student working in a pea factory. It was only years later that I realised I was a Production Planner for 3 summers. Was I a good one? No idea because no-one ever approached any of the students who worked there 8 weeks a year to discuss a career in food manufacturing. And it was never a suggestion at any of the career events I went to. Food / Drink manufacturing was never mentioned during any case studies that I did as part of my Business degree. I remember a Marketing example with Disney but nothing about Supply Chain, Logistics, Operations, Account Management.
I don’t know where or who should be flying the flag for careers in Food Manufacturing, all I know is that with hindsight, I’d have loved to work in Operations in the Food Industry, looking at Process Improvements, challenging processes, taking cost out. And had I taken this route, maybe I wouldn’t have been pushed to the point of no return. And what makes me feel really sad is the people I worked with for the last 18 months of my career in food, they never knew the real me. I was somebody I don’t actually recognise and to this day, they probably have a memory of a very different me, one I thankfully never plan to be again.
So, if you’re reading this and have children, nieces / nephews, godchildren, maybe talk to them about the crazy world that is food manufacturing. Make them think about how the products they buy in the supermarket got there and see things from a wider perspective. Make career opportunities come alive. Because unless you want to be a vet, a doctor or a nurse (a few other jobs could be included into this sweeping statement!) there are so many choices out there that you just don’t know exist.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I feel very privileged and honoured to have worked in this industry, I wear my war wounds with pride and if you’re reading this thinking about a future career, go for it. There’s something pretty magical about Food Manufacturing, you have to see it to believe it though.
Tel: 0115 972 6513