Name: Noa Cohen
Job title: UK public affairs manager
Company & location: General Mills based in Uxbridge
Education: MA(Hons) Politics at University of Edinburgh
Why did you decide to go for a career in food & drink? My background is in politics and public affairs – I used to work on advertising policy and that included food and drink advertising, which has been a really hot political topic in the last few years.
I absolutely loved it – it’s such an interesting issue and was my first brush with a manufacturing sector. I find it so satisfying to be involved in something with a tangible product at the end of it. Plus, I love food – who doesn’t?!
Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): There’s two sides to it really – the ‘public’ aspect of it is representing the company in the political sphere and managing our relationships with policymakers. Then there’s the more industry-facing part, working with teams inside the business to ensure we’re prepared for upcoming regulatory changes and political headwinds.
“I recommend going to events and building your public affairs and political network”
What does a typical day look like for you? I have one or two office days a week – that’s when I mostly keep my head down and get written work done, sometimes have internal meetings or presentations.
But most days I’m in London for in-person meetings in parliament or with our trade associations, or at relevant industry events. I really love this bit because I get to advocate for what I think is a fantastic company and industry and talk to interesting people with a hugely diverse assortment of opinions on how we can problem-solve on a massive range of issues – everything from soil health to border controls. Then I feedback internally what I’ve learned and how this can inform our business strategy.
Tell us how you went about applying for your job. I already knew General Mills from when I was working with food manufacturers on advertising issues at a trade association. When the job became available, General Mills reached out to me from our previous work together to see if I’d be interested in interviewing for the role.
I interviewed with a few different people, including the director of external affairs for Europe and Australia, the global VP of external relations, and the MD for Europe and Australia. It’s been long enough that I don’t really remember the specifics of the questions, but demonstrating I understood the political and regulatory environment and had strong communication skills was essential.
What’s the best part about working for a food & drink company? Food production is so much more multifaceted and complex than I ever really grasped before entering the industry. It means my work crosses a ton of different issues so I’m constantly learning and following evolving debates.
There’s always going to be political focus on some of these at a time, so my job is really interesting and varied. I also love working in-house. I come from a trade association background so it’s a different experience advocating for one business – honestly more fun.
And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? I think a lot of people in public affairs and policy assume that the work is very Defra-focused. When the supply chains are this long and complex, you end up working on a plethora of issues, touching on a lot of policy areas across different government departments including DHSC, DBT, Cabinet Office, CMS, DESNZ and Treasury.
What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? This is quite public affairs-specific, but go to events and build your public affairs and political network.
Being keen to learn, up to date on the big policy issues which will affect the industry, having a good understanding of the political landscape and a strong network both in politics and industry will go further than having food sector experience that isn’t public affairs or politically adjacent.
And keep an eye out for government strategies which affect the industry – usually these will come from Defra, DHSC or DBT.
What’s your ultimate career dream? To work in public affairs and politics until I burn out, and then open a book shop that doubles as a wine bar.