Dominic is Director at Titanic Consulting and was previously responsible for graduate Food Technologist recruitment for M&S.
So why be a food technologist? When I was sitting in your place all those years ago I didn’t know the answer. You’d be surprised how many people currently working in the food industry didn’t sit as a child and play Factory QA manager instead of doctors and nurses. However many of them have found true passion and enthusiasm for their jobs. Personally I always wanted to be a doctor but failed to get the grades and my second choice was to do biomedical science. However something helped me change my mind to food science, the best decision I ever made. My very wise A Level chemistry teacher told me about this amazing degree which had guaranteed jobs at the end and great pay. It was to be as successful as the computer studies courses in the nineties. It was food science. It also occurred to me that I would be graduating with 150 people in medical science instead of the 10 people who ended up graduating with me in food science.
So in the end I chose a four year sandwich food science course at Queens University and loved every minute of it. It was a very satisfy and what appealed to me was the mix of academic and hands on elements of the course. Between lectures from Campden on canning, to Cheese making practical’s it covered a broad spectrum. I also chose modules in nutrition and food engineering to specialise my learning. As part of my course I did two placements. One was a 3 month quality technician job in a pickled herring and gherkin factory in Finland and the other was a 12 month role as a food technologist in Marks and Spencer’s head office in London. Getting practical experience is an absolute necessity for any modern degree. The quality and length of hands on experience is what differentiates graduates from one another and gives them the biggest step ahead when applying for jobs.
After I graduated I took a full time role in Marks and Spencer where I spent 6 years as a food technologist. My job there involved a variety of activities including supplier approval, new product development, auditing and HACCP review and packaging approval. Being a food technologist in a big retailer is great because it allows you to move between different departments. During my time I worked in the meat, juice and ready meals departments looking after up to 15 different suppliers and over 250 products. In 2007 I left M&S to move back to Northern Ireland with my family. One of the big benefits of working in the food industry is its universality and significance to UK economy. There are food factories throughout the UK and the commonality of EC legislation and audit requirement means that moving jobs across the country is very easy.
I took a job at a small artisan venison and sausage producer called Finnebrogue. There I got to manage the technical, product development and due to my experience in retail, also the commercial activities of the business. My team and I have over the past 2 years driven an agenda of quality and innovation which has resulted in us doubling the turnover. I have build at team of technical and development people who have all experience of food science, food quality or consumer studies. But on top of this they also have a genuine love of food and creative flair. I have noticed a difference in working in the industry compared to working in a retail environment. There are pressures in both but in a factory there are pulls and demands from many different areas. However similar to the retail environment, factory’s offer great opportunities to move around different functions and disciplines. An old boss of mine once told me that the food industry is ultimately a meritocracy. This means if you work hard you progress further and I have found this to generally be true. Unlike working in other industries like the civil service or teaching where there are salary bands and set progression, in the food industry hard work and passion are generally recognise and rewarded.
The recruitment climate going forward is going to be the hard over the next few years and graduates need as much in their “tool-box” to secure that brilliant job to get them into an industry that offers great rewards and satifisfaction. Not only are you going to have to compete with all the UK graduates but if you scan the horizon you will see countries such as China investing millions of pound in developing home grown food technologist. China sees great potential in food science and technology and so too should you! Good luck!