Gaining and Retaining Talent in the Food Sector – Food and Drink Expo 2016

This week I attended the Food and Drink Expo at the NEC in Birmingham. I like to take the opportunity at industry events to sit and listen to some of the seminars and Q&A’s that are held, the topics of discussion often help me further develop my market understanding and provide insights that I can pass on to clients.

With Collingwood being an executive search and leadership development consultancy, one talk that particularly caught my attention was 'Gaining and Retaining Talent in the Food Sector'. The panel consisted of The Grocer’s Top New Talent winners from recent years and was led by The Grocer’s Editor Adam Leyland. The panel included a mix of young entrepreneurs, retailers as well as FMCG companies, which included:

Ben Mason, Founder of Mason Beans
Adam Sopher, Co-Founder, and Director of Joe and Seph’s Popcorn
Nicole Tallant – Buying Manager at Asda
Kris Comerford – Category Director at Tesco
Paddy Carmody – Senior Brand and Shopper Manager at Beiersdorf

During the 45 minutes Q&A session the panel discussed and answered a number of interesting questions and gave their take on developing and supporting talent in the food sector. Highlights included:

The Attraction of the Food Sector

The panel all gave their personal journey, explaining how they came to work in the food sector. For some it was by curiosity, some by accident (applying for any graduate scheme) and others identifying a gap in the market and coming up with a great idea. They all pointed to the opportunities the sector provided, to work in a fast-paced environment, the opportunity to travel and develop a clear career path. They also identified that it is a sector with a clear purpose – to serve the customer and save them money. They all enjoyed forming the partnerships between retailers and suppliers ensuring that they can set out to achieve this purpose.

Clear Career Path and Plan

The panel highlighted the importance of a five-year plan, be it as an entrepreneur or working for one of the Retailers. They all discussed how it continues to be a steep learning curve, especially for an entrepreneur when it comes to understanding product development, supply chain, distribution and speaking the right language with their customers.

The retailers on the panel discussed how they have been supported by their employers to help them define and develop their own career paths, be that through a structured program (beginning on a graduate scheme), or working closely with their line managers and mentors to identify the gaps in their skills. Some had ambitions to become a CEO, but were quite aware that they still had a lot to learn! However, with such a strong senior management and executive board in place, they were in a perfect environment to help them achieve this.

Finding New Talent

Through their own success of moving into senior management, they are all now helping to develop their own teams in the business. It was refreshing to hear them all talk about bringing people into the business that could bring something new to the team. A new skill set or expertise not currently in their team. They felt that they can easily develop the technical skills required, but what was more important to them was the cultural fit, personality and the drive and determination that they could bring to the team. Often we get clients too hung up on the technical expertise and background, rather than the cultural fit, which in my point of view too, is more important.


The temptation to move on?

All were asked if they were ever tempted to move on and if they were often approached about new roles. It was good to hear that money was not a motivator for them. The cultural fit, challenge on offer and being given the chance to be accountable for key business decisions was their biggest motivator. They also felt that they were in such a strong environment to be able to learn from others and be mentored and developed, that they would potentially struggle to find that elsewhere.

Collingwood Executive Search have helped FMCG and Food businesses to identify, retain and develop their talent through executive search, coaching leadership development, and assessment. To find out how we can gain and retain talent for your business please visit or call us on +44 1829 732374.

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