Keen to inspire youngsters to choose a career path in the fresh produce industry, Richard Hochfeld – one of the oldest independent fruit import businesses in the UK – is currently providing an internship to Tim Whincup as part of his agribusiness management degree at Newcastle University. Here, Tim explains to PBUK how attending last year’s Fresh Careers Fair kick-started his fresh produce journey.
How did you get into the fresh produce industry?
Through The Fresh Careers Fair. I attended with a group of students from Newcastle University, and at the event I visited the stands of the companies I’d researched in advance. I met the team from Richard Hochfeld, and we got on well. It gave me a foot in the door. Later, I was invited to an interview and I secured a nine-month placement that started in September.
Did you know about the industry beforehand?
Not really. Once I started my uni course I imagined I’d work in the food supply chain, but I hadn’t thought much about the specific area I’d like to be involved in. I was probably looking more at the retail side. I’ve had a summer job working on a farm where you can pick your own strawberries and asparagus. Other than that, I had very little experience. The trip to The Fresh Careers Fair was my first exposure to the real industry behind fresh produce.
Do you think experience matters in produce?
Most of the people at Richard Hochfeld didn’t have experience when they started either. They have built up their knowledge from being in the industry since a fairly young age. As long as you’re interested, you can work with that and go from there. If you have qualifications, then great. If not, you can still gain qualifications and experience as you go.
What’s your internship role at Richard Hochfeld?
When I went for the interview I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go into exactly. I had an idea of working in procurement, but I didn’t know what it entailed. The company has been really good in letting me experience all sorts of different areas of the business.
My main roles so far have been on the top fruit side of the business covering the tracking of quality service levels, customer complaints, sales invoices and accounts and deliveries. I’ve just started working on our Tesco orders, and I’ve also been involved in a research project, tasting sessions and packhouse visits. Shortly, I’ll be working with the table grape team on quality control.
What do you think of the industry now you’re involved?
I definitely want to stay in fresh produce! I’m really enjoying it. It’s pretty fast-paced. Something you can be working on in the morning can be redundant by the afternoon because it moves that quickly. I like that problem solving side of the business. Also, it’s a broad industry – you can work at a farm level, with a supplier, as a packhouse manager or in retail, which is pretty cool.
Have you been surprised by what it has to offer?
I didn’t know what to expect, but I found out early on about the scope to travel (because fruit is imported into the UK from all over the world) and that opportunity is a perk for me. Already, I’ve been to New York and Amsterdam to attend two trade shows and conferences about fresh produce.
Do you think the produce sector is a good career option?
Definitely. Everyone I’ve met in the industry is really interested in what younger people have to offer and helping us to learn and progress. Since The Fresh Careers Fair, I’ve been offered the opportunity to attend certain events, to tour facilities and orchards or just to talk about career experiences and my own prospects. Already, I’ve met some interesting and respected people in the industry.
What did you like most about The Fresh Careers Fair?
Being able to speak to companies face-to-face, and directly meeting the people that make the decisions. You can’t get that from an online application or email exchange. From pretty much day one, I dealt with the managing director of Richard Hochfeld. It’s a lot more difficult to gain access to the big, well-known companies in other industries.
Would you recommend the event to other students?
Yes. You can save yourself a lot of research in terms of finding the companies with job opportunities. Before The Fresh Careers Fair, I’d never heard of Richard Hochfeld! It was really beneficial on the networking side to meet people and to hear about their experiences. Everyone from my group found the event useful to get their face and name known in the industry.
The Fresh Careers Fair is the recruitment event for the fresh produce, retail, foodservice, hospitality, and wholesale sectors, plus their related service suppliers.
Any organisation looking to attract the next generation of food and drink professionals by taking part in the 2018 edition on 8 March in London at The Kia Oval, should email Linda Bloomfield.