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

Rachael Stothard

When you’re standing in the supermarket checkout queue imagine the pride felt in knowing that you’ve created the meal your fellow shopper has chosen for their dinner. That’s the feel-good factor Rachael Stothard has enjoyed when going into her local Marks and Spencer.

We spoke to Rachael during her work placement with 2 Sisters Food Group (2SFG) at their Pennine Foods site in 2014. She’d been creating new foods and employing the learning from her Food Science and Nutrition BSc course at Leeds University to make a real contribution to the company. And she’s following a career ambition she’s had since she was 12 years old.

Why did you chose 2SFG and Pennine Foods for your placement?
Location played a part – I wanted to stay close to where I’ve been studying – but I was also fascinated by the work of the company. While it’s a name the public may not recognise, 2SFG supply a range of products from raw meat to ready meals to all the major supermarkets.

I like the diversity of their chilled products, all fresh, innovative and of excellent quality. I wanted to be part of the team responsible for that.

What work are you involved in at Pennine Foods?
My placement is in two halves, each has given me very different, but equally exciting perspectives on chilled food production. In NPD (New Product Development) I was responsible for the final stages of new chilled meals for M&S. It was a busy time, I barely sat down! But so rewarding, I worked in the team making final modifications (for example to salt content). 

I was thrilled to see the meals in people’s shopping baskets, I really felt I’d achieved something.

The second part of the placement is with the Technical Department. I’ve been looking at the traceability of products inside our factories – how ingredients and materials make their way through our systems. By bringing colleagues together from differing area I’ve identified ways to improve the systems. I was slightly concerned that it might not be as rewarding as the NPD work but have happily been proved wrong. It’s fascinating and is giving me a real insight into lots of roles within the industry. It will definitely help with future career decisions.

How are you applying your course experience to your placement? 
This has brought the lectures to life. In NPD we learnt about critical paths and gateways but from doing the work I’ve been applying the learning and now really understand concept development. I also have a much better understanding of microbiology which I’ll be able to take back for my third year.

Is the experience making you more or less keen to pursue a career in chilled food? 

I have always been keen, but this has made me even keener. It’s not what I expected but I am really enjoying the challenges.

It’s new, exciting and slightly daunting but I never feel uncomfortable. This is where I want to be. I am getting support for my practical contributions from my line manager but have also had a mentor who has helped me with personal development during the placement. This has been especially helpful. I cannot fault the placement and my colleagues are already discussing possible future opportunities for me when I graduate.

What are the best bits?
The teams are great, very supportive and their passion for what they do is inspiring. I am surrounded by very clever people so am learning all the time.

Job satisfaction is huge, from seeing the product I helped bring to the supermarket going on sale, to the active input I am making to our traceability review I really feel I am contributing.

Getting to experience ‘behind the scenes’ in food production is also exciting. We have some unique ‘kit’ here. I admit to getting pretty emotional when I first saw some of the machinery – sounds strange I know, but it’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before, a real sci-fi piece of engineering!

What are the less enjoyable elements (if any)?

As a student I’ve enjoyed late starts and long holidays but this is a real job so it’s early starts and fewer days off! But I am not going to complain, it’s getting me used to the real world and the jobs market.

Any advice to others considering their placement options? 
You must do a placement, it really will open doors for you. Do your research. I found this placement at a careers fair. Don’t give up if you don’t succeed at first. Keep looking, places are advertised all the time.

And finally – any advice to employers re how they work with their placement students?
Give your students time to settle in. I didn’t feel I was ‘in at the deep end’ because I came into a structure where I understood what was expected of me and how I fitted in. Plan your placements’ time in advance, this is mutually beneficial.

I’ve enjoyed having a manager and a mentor, I really feel the company is investing in me. And feedback is always welcome. A bit of reassurance that the student is doing the right thing means a lot.

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