Name: Abbie Griffiths
Job title: Graduate on The Billington Group’s Future Leader Programme – current position graduate technologist
Company & location: I’m currently based at Billington Foodservice – The Kitchen at Newport, but will shortly be moving to English Provender Company in Newbury
Education: Sheffield Hallam University, hospitality business management (BSc)
Why did you decide to go for a career in food? I have always had a passion for food and had initially considered a career as a chef. After college, I decided to study hospitality, where I gained a lot of experience in the food and beverage industry. In my final year of university I found myself becoming increasingly interested in ingredient origin and supply chain management and so eventually decided to look into food manufacturing roles. Without a specifically food-related degree, I needed to find a different route into the industry and that’s when I found The Billington Group. The Future Leader Programme looked amazing as I saw I’d be spending time in various departments across the business – a great way to see all the processes involved and roles that I hadn’t ever considered. I love what I do at the moment and can’t imagine not working in food!
Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): In my current role, I verify and validate current and new equipment in the factory, as well as looking at how to improve process efficiencies.
What does a typical day look like for you? At the minute, it’s a bit of everything. I’ve got my day-to-day tasks, which include making sure everything is in order with the factory. Then I’ll attend a taste panel where we test the quality of the products, assessing the taste, texture and appearance of everything produced that day to check they meet our quality requirements. After that I’ll go through our paperwork for the products, making sure we’re compliant to regulations and have completed all the necessary paperwork for production.
As part of the Future Leader Programme, I’m also involved with lots of other projects, both business specific and group-wide, to maximise my experience and exposure to new challenges. I’ve had the opportunity to work with our PR, content and social agency, Extreme, and at each site we are given the opportunity to work with other teams to help identify potential areas for improvement within the business. At my first placement I saw an opportunity for us to help reduce food waste and started to look for alternative avenues for excess product. We now work closely with FareShare, a charity dedicated to tackling food waste. They take products that would otherwise go to waste and redistribute them to other charities around the UK who then turn them into meals. It’s been great working with them and seeing the positive difference it makes.
“The Future Leader Programme looked amazing as I saw I’d be spending time in various departments across the business”
Tell us about how you went about applying for your job. The first step of the process was to fill in the application on the website, where I uploaded my CV and was asked a few questions about my past experience, skills, hobbies etc. Not long after, I received a phone call inviting me to a factory tour of TSC Foods, one of our manufacturing sites, in Scunthorpe. With a group of other candidates I was shown around the site, enjoyed a lunch made by the NPD chefs and had a relatively informal interview. The final stage was an assessment centre held at our central meeting location, The Barn, in Birmingham. Prior to the day, we were given a brief to prepare a presentation on a particular topic – I chose a current food trend, veganism. We then did a group exercise, where we were tasked with creating an ‘on trend’ product that could be manufactured by one of the Billington subsidiaries, writing up a business plan and then presenting the idea back to the interviewers. The whole plan was then picked apart and we had to answer any questions they had, almost like dragons’ den. It was pretty intense. Finally, we were then taken off separately to do individual interviews. Within a week or so, I was called back for a final interview at our head office, which is based in the Cunard Building, Liverpool. I found out I had got on to the Future Leader Programme soon after that!
What’s the best part about working for a food company? Apart from all of the amazing food I get to taste, it has to be getting to see our products everywhere I go. I am lucky enough to witness it all, from the recipe being created in the kitchen, to the management of the processes in the factory, all the way to our end consumer. It’s a really interesting process to be a part of and there’s nothing quite like seeing something you’ve worked on, sitting on a shelf in the supermarket – it’s a proud moment!
And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? A lot of people think all we do is taste food all day. I won’t lie, I am lucky enough to try lots of great products but there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to get a product from ideas to on the shelf, and a lot of paperwork!
What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? If you’ve found something you’re interested in, whether it’s a job role, some work experience or involvement in a project, just go for it! It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you’re qualified. I don’t have a food-based degree, but I took a chance and now I’m here working for a huge company in the F&B industry. Be confident in what you bring to the table, and show your enthusiasm to learn on the job; ambition is key!
What’s your ultimate career dream? I see myself as a commercial director one day. I love building relationships with people, especially with my hospitality background, and I enjoy the challenge of finding the solutions to their business needs.