Students attending the Fresh Careers Fair 2017 are poised to pitch themselves to a panel of experts judges – the fresh produce and foodservice dragons.
Spending a few minutes in front of the experts might be a nerve-racking experience for the youngsters but the vital feedback and mentorship they get in return makes it worthwhile – and the winner of the best pitch will also win an iPad Mini.
PBUK takes a closer look at our fresh produce/foodservice dragons and mentors line up for 2017.
“I’ve got fire in my belly”, says industry stalwart Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits and former chairman of the Poupart Group.
He’s one of our produce dragons and offers a wealth of experience. Laurence will be looking for confident, personable, well-briefed and well-educated students.
“I am excited about being a dragon and will be looking for candidates who can show me that in their life to date they have taken on and led projects of any type and have put themselves in positions of responsibility and risk. Examples of failure are fine as long as they are coupled to a learning experience,” he tells PBUK.
Laurence is a fourth generation fruit industry professional who started his career in 1969. His managerial experience has covered a wide range of fresh produce crops and activities ranging from importing, marketing, sales, food service supply and wholesaling.
He was MD of Poupart for 18 years from 1987, and retired as chairman in December 2016. He is chairman of British Summer Fruits Ltd and a non-executive consultant to G’s Fresh, Shropshire Investment Board and Reynolds Catering Supplies Ltd. He is also a Leader in Residence and advisory board member at Leeds University Business School.
“My advice to starters in our industry is that it suits candidates that understand hard work, dedication and are not looking for quick results. The industry is a long game not a quick winner.
“Because it is about food it is a defensive industry relatively immune to the vagaries of the peaks and troughs of other industries. The opportunities are boundless and are enhanced due to the fact the industry is relatively low down on the list of preferential careers so the opportunities for advancement are many.
“The product is healthy and does the consumer good. Travel, meeting people, seasonality, foreign language opportunities are all good points to consider. The industry is in growth mode and is valued by both the retailers, food service and the ultimate consumer.
“Candidates bring to the industry their youth, experience and viewpoint to challenge the accepted practises. We need to understand their age group as ultimately they are our consumers.”
Another produce dragon is Nigel Jenney, who joined trade association Fresh Produce Consortium as chief executive in May 2004. He is also a director of the EU equivalent organisation located in Brussels where he attends regular EU fresh produce advisory meetings.
Nigel is committed to the promotion of fresh produce in the UK and is actively involved in the development of the industry. His increased profile and in-depth knowledge of food security, sustainability and ethical trading matters have led to consistent lobbying and communication at an international level, debating at many forums on these and a variety of related issues. He also holds a number of non-executive roles including New Covent Garden Market Authority and previously the Gangmaster Licensing Authority.
Amy Lance is a fresh produce buyer, working for the past nine years for UK supermarkets including Waitrose and Tesco. Entering into this industry with a biomedical science degree was slightly unusual, although it provided the perfect platform for Amy to develop a passion for fresh produce, sustainability, and global agriculture.
Amy has gained a wide experience in the retail industry by undertaking roles within the technical and commercial departments, always driven by her passion for fruit, vegetables, salads and horticulture. And, for the last 12 months she has spent her time far from the UK on farms in rural California, Senegal, and South Africa to experience growing fresh produce first-hand.
Following the fresh produce that she has been purchasing in the UK, back to its source to understand the supply chain in a far greater detail, Amy joins the dragons on March 9th.
“I was very pleased to be asked to be a dragon as it’s always a pleasure to work with students, I’m always keen to discuss and debate ideas, it helps me to think about things differently too. I strive to help where I can and encourage more young passionate people to enter into the food industry,” she tells PBUK.
“Many people across the industry have given me extremely valuable advice and support throughout my career and I’d love to be able to offer similar support to young people entering the industry.”
Asked what she looks for during the recruitment process, Amy says one of the most important aspects is relationship building.
“Being able to connect with people from all over the world from various cultures, professions and backgrounds is key. Relationships in the fresh sector are not just for a year, many will last for the rest of your career.
“You need energy and enthusiasm for the fresh produce industry, engaging throughout the supply chain. If you struggle to stand still then this just may be the industry for you.
“As a retailer, listening is so important. You will be working with people who have grown up in the industry, whose families have been in the industry for many generations and there is a wealth of experience to absorb if you ask the right questions and have a desire to build up your knowledge every day.”
And in terms of advice for school leavers or graduates about to embark on their career, Amy says considering the food industry is important, as food is a constant that everyone can relate to.
“Being involved in an industry that everyone has vested interest in is superb. As the fresh industry, we are in such a privileged position to help to make a positive impact on people’s lives by bringing nutritious, fresh product into the market from the right place at the right time – I would recommend it to anyone.
“The fresh produce industry is very fast paced; as soon as the product is harvested it is a ticking time bomb, fast, informed decisions are critical. This makes fresh produce very exciting for me. No two days are the same, if you like routine and the security of a desk every day then you may not enjoy the industry as much as I do.
“Working with fresh foods you have to be happy to accept change on a daily basis and despite careful planning, you always have to be on your toes ready to create a new solution.”
One of the foodservice dragons is Sharon Linney, operations director of Lusso, part of CH&Co Group, a leading independent catering and hospitality company with a diverse portfolio of specialist businesses that provide innovative catering, event and service solutions for business & industry, education, healthcare, inspiring venues, and visitor attractions.
Formed in June 2015 following a series of mergers and acquisitions, CH&Co Group now operates a number of well-known brands within the foodservice sector including ABsolutely Catering, Ampersand, The Brookwood Partnership, Charlton House, Chester Boyd, Host & Catermasters, Lusso, ITA*, and Via360. The Group employs a team of nearly 6,000 working across more than 600 locations throughout the UK and Ireland, and holds the Royal Warrant for Catering Services to HM The Queen.
Sharon believes some of the most important characteristics that make a candidate stand out are perseverance and courage.
“What we look for in candidates really depends on what level we’re recruiting for but we always look for a person with a smart appearance, confident, good body language, excellent communication skills and someone who can keep the interviewer engaged and interested, who also has a varied CV, good hobbies and interesting life achievements,” she tells PBUK.
She is pleased to be a Fresh Careers Fair dragon and has been involved with mentoring many times, currently mentoring with non-profit organisation Springboard which helps young people achieve their potential and supports unemployed people of any age, to find work.
“Some of the biggest challenges facing graduates today are international and European experienced staff, especially those who have another language.
“Sometimes people have to go through a lengthy recruitment process, competing against people who have better or a more varied and interesting CV,” she adds.
Meet a mentor: Charlie Dunn
Several industry professionals will also be on-hand at the ‘Meet a mentor’ stand during the Fresh Careers Fair. Students can drop by and have a chat with industry leaders from fresh produce and foodservice sectors.
One of the mentors is Charlie Dunn, chairman of the UK’s under 40’s Fruit Growers Conference. Charlie is part of the management team of 200-year-old mixed family farm, Chandler & Dunn farm in Kent.
He’s looking for people with a “spark and lust” who are also humble but brave enough to “stick their head above the parapet”.
He is also looking forward to hearing ideas from this year’s student group who can offer different perspectives, energy and “new ways to evolve the industry.”
“Bring it on. I’ll be showing some some tough love, a pragmatic approach and will encourage students in a “don’t give up/self belief” dragon or mentoring way. I might be part of a family farm, but it’s taken 18 years to become part of the management,” he says.
“My advice to students is the only thing holding you back is yourself. Of course you’re not going to be CEO straight after you get out of university, but why is that so bad?
“Start from the bottom and learn; immerse yourself in every aspect of your industry. You develop an appreciation for every part that every person has to play in your business or industry and therefore have better judgement, empathy and understanding to make the best decisions for all (in most cases) when you do work your way up to the “big time”.
“Also by doing this you’ll earn a far greater respect and that’s something a degree can’t buy. Experience does. Although, this should never detract from the value of a qualification.”
Also part of the mentoring team is Amy Gray, who first joined the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in 2011, starting out as a graduate trainee and then worked her way up, first as the assistant adviser for the science and regulatory affairs team and then as the NFU horticulture adviser for ornamentals, fruit and protected edible crops in 2014: a post she still holds.
Her current work focuses on policies and issues affecting various horticultural sectors such as hardy nursery stock, protected crops (edible and ornamental), bulbs and outdoor flowers, top fruit, soft fruit, mushrooms, hops, cider and wine.
Her advice for students just starting out in their careers centres around getting as much exposure as possible and seeking a good mentor.
“The world of fresh produce is such an exciting and diverse sector to work in. Whatever your strengths, there will be something to fit your interests; be it the technical practise of growing fruit or vegetables, to the creative outlet of culinary arts or the strategic skills for lobbying in a trade association like the NFU.
“I found that the trick is to try and get exposure to as many different aspects of your sector as you can. Take that opportunity to find out what you enjoy and what you don’t, and as you develop in your career, move towards the areas that are of greater interest you and make the most of your skillsets. The good news is that the fresh produce sector is very diverse and, certainly for the production side of things, the industry is crying out for new up-and-coming professionals.
“One big bit of advice that I was given early on is to have a number of go-to people that you can turn to if you ever need some help. Having a mentor, someone you respect or admire, can really widen your mindset in the way you approach your job or specific tasks. Having someone there to offer guidance for some of the trickier parts of your job is so important when you’re starting out.”
Amy will be keeping an eye out for “well-rounded candidates with good written and verbal communication skills,” and technically competent students able to understand key policy areas.
“I like to see someone who looks at a problem and comes up with a novel solution; who can think outside the box and can identify areas where things can be done better.
“In my line of work, I also need to see someone who is a strategic thinker and can play through a scenario in their mind through until completion. So much of what we do involves persuasive and evidence-driven lobbying. The ability to strategize the best way to successfully influence a situation is key.
“I’m very excited to be part of the Fresh Careers Fair 2017 and look forward to answering questions about the opportunities that are out there for prospective employees in fresh produce. Being a mentor is important to me as I want to show that there are great opportunities in this industry, both in terms of the diversity of roles out there, and the fantastic potential for career development.”