Alicia Owen, Biona

Name: Alicia Owen

Age: 29

Job title: National account manager

Company & location:  Windmill Organics Ltd in Kingston upon Thames

Education:  Accounting at University of Hull, First Class Honours

Why did you decide to go for a career in food?  I’ve had a passion for health food since a young age, especially as my mum is a food and drink business advisor, so food products have always been a regular discussion point in our household! My mum would take me to food shows in my teens as her ‘account manager’ and I was blown away by all the innovation within the food industry. I remember saying my dream job would be to get products like this stocked in supermarkets as well as influence the development of the products too.

Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two)?  I started off by managing a variety of wholesale accounts both in the UK and internationally. I am now mainly focused on managing supermarket and large retail accounts in the UK and EU, including Waitrose, Morrisons, Booths and Holland & Barrett. My job role was new within the company and as Biona grew, we started to welcome supermarket business with the intention of providing quality, organic products to the wider market. My role involves new business development, building relationships with buyers, getting NPD listed and managing promotional activity for over 500 SKUs.

What does a typical day look like for you?  I work from home, so I find having a set routine is important to make sure I can differentiate home from work life. Due to our large number of customers and the breadth of products, no two days are the same, and I am always kept on my toes! Biona is our largest brand and takes up most of my time, especially as the range is most suited to supermarkets. My day consists of analysing sales performance, working with the purchasing team to meet customer requirements, promotional planning, category analysis, new business opportunities, new product set-ups and supporting the NPD team with buyer feedback.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve achieved a total of 49 new listings in the multiples – five in Tesco, 24 in Waitrose and 20 in Morrisons. That’s on top of over 100 new listings in Booths in the last 12 months and 30 new listings in Holland & Barrett. I am really passionate about growing each of my accounts and working with them to get the organic message out there.

“Your genuine passion for the brand or product will come across to the buyer, and you won’t even feel like you’re selling”

Tell us how you went about applying for your job.  I came across one of the products online and loved the branding and what it stood for. I emailed them after graduating in 2015 to see if they had any jobs available, and was invited for an interview. I would say the trickiest part was trying to be clued-up on their 500 products, more than 400 of which are Biona, and the additional five organic brands within the Windmill Organics portfolio. I received the job offer towards the end of the interview. A few weeks later I moved to Kingston and began working as their junior account manager.

What’s the best part about working for a food company?  It’s hard to pick just one! Personally, the best part for me is seeing the tangible results of my work, such as a new product landing in store for the first time. A recent example was building a bespoke organic bay for Booths in-store, which included 70 new Biona listings. I find working for an organic food company rewarding because your work benefits the planet and supports a more holistic way of farming. I also enjoy being part of a purpose-driven family-run business with a strong mission: to build a healthier future through 100% organic and vegetarian food. Similarly, it’s great that I’m able to work directly with the founders on a daily basis and be involved in the decision-making process.

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink?  For someone that hasn’t worked in the food industry before, I would say they might think it’s easy to get a new product listed in store, but this is not often the case. You can have a brilliant product that ticks all the boxes, however there are many complexities and hurdles before you can secure the listing. These include finding the right buyer, timings of the range review window, product lead times and restrictions on shelf space in store.

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry?  I highly recommend looking for a brand you’re passionate about, especially when going into sales. Your genuine passion for the brand or product will come across to the buyer, and you won’t even feel like you’re selling. This will also help you in the interview process as employers favour someone with a personal interest in their products, and you will find the work more rewarding. For example, when I talk to buyers about the Biona range, I explain it to them in the same way I would to a friend, so it doesn’t feel like I’m selling.

What’s your ultimate career dream?  I would love to stay involved in sales and maintaining buyer relationships, but perhaps on a larger scale such as a commercial director. My goal is to continue to get as many organic products on shelves as possible. I also want to educate more shoppers on organic through in-store activations, to show the positive impact organic farming has on both people and the planet. Finally, the ultimate dream would be for there to always be an organic option for products on every shelf in-store.

Interested in finding out more about food & drink careers? Check out GrocerJobs for the latest vacancies