Imaginative Teaching Resources & Inspirational Career Ideas from the Chilled Food Industry

Leon Smith

We spoke to Leon in 2013 when he was working as a Technical Manager at DPS (Direct Produce Supplies). His career path illustrates a non-scientific route into the food sector.

What is your degree?

I graduated in 2007 with a combined BA Hons in Business & Sport from Liverpool University

When do you first become interested in Food Science? 
My route into the food industry has been through the business side. I work with colleagues with a variety of skill sets and am now passionate about the fruit sector.

Did you have a career goal in mind when you applied for University? 
I was keen to pursue a career with prospects and the opportunities to develop and progress.

What work placements did you go on? What were they like, what did you do?
I applied for the graduate scheme at Natures Way Foods (NWF) as a supply chain graduate. My wide-ranging experience there began in Material Planning, in the supply chain team.

A move to the Sales team was the first time I got involved in the science of food – working with Tesco on bagged salads and developing ways of extending shelf life. It was fascinating to work with the technical teams to get the look of the product right, ensuring the packaging protects the contents and so on.

After 6 months my role changed to work on new product innovation, after a further 6/7 months moving to production. This gave me experience of all aspects of the business from Quality Control and hygiene to engineering.

I next moved to sales becoming Fruit Technical Manager which developed into Fruit Product Manager.

I enjoyed the opportunity to move around the company, eventually becoming Supply Chain Technical Manager – responsible for quality, safety, supplier relationships. I stayed in that role for 2 years enjoying fantastic travel opportunities, auditing the supply chain, covering the business’s ethical considerations as well as getting the best fruit at the best price.

How have you found job hunting in the food sector?
The graduate scheme’s variety offered a wide range of experiences and the chance to pick up a lot of skills. The great thing about the food sector is its range of jobs, covering many different products with a lot of opportunities.

What does your job involve? Is it fun, interesting?
No two days are ever the same. At NWF I travelled the world – from India to source pomegranates, to Costa Rica for pineapples. I had to understand each country’s laws and regulations so I had a steep learning curve!

I had a great time at NWF but was keen for new experiences and to do more customer facing work while continuing to travel.

DPS offered me a role liaising with growers. I still enjoy international travelling but we also source from the UK. Our seasonal work means we need to move our suppliers depending on the time of year – eg plums and cherries from Kent in June and July and from Spain, Italy and Portugal in May-Sept. We also source from further afield – South Africa, Chile, Argentina and the US.

Every day brings different challenges but if you are willing to be flexible and work hard it is very rewarding.

What are your long term career plans? 
My next step is to Senior Technical Manager. But I’m happy where I am at the moment. I would like to work towards a director’s role in the future, however I have a lot of learning to do before being ready for that. The business has been very good to me, I’ve met and worked with some great people. And it’s interesting to work with companies you might otherwise be unaware of – yet they are incredibly productive and important.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about Food Science as a career? 
Be prepared to work hard, don’t get swayed by applying only to the big names – they don’t always have that many opportunities, in a smaller company you can experience much more diverse roles.

You can enter the business via other routes but be flexible, interested and enthusiastic and never be afraid to ask questions!

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