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Name: Oliver Gilding

Age: 27

Job title: Exclusive brands manager

Company & location: Iceland Foods in Deeside

Education: International Business MSc at the University of Leeds

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Growing up my hero was Steve Irwin, so a zoologist.

Why did you decide to go for a career in food & drink? I have always been fascinated by the food and drink industry and what it took to bring products from concept through development and ultimately ending up in customers’ homes.

I was fortunate to intern at a number of fresh produce businesses before starting my degree, which cemented my desire to re-enter the industry after my master’s, and be involved in feeding the nation. Whatever the uncertainties about the years ahead, people will always want to eat and drink.

Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): I manage Iceland’s exclusive branded portfolio, which accounts for over 200 products across 20 branded ranges. My primary responsibilities include brand recruitment, product development and the day-to-day management of each brand. 

What does a typical day look like for you? My role is incredibly varied, from day-to-day communication with exclusive branded partners, new product development, licensing agreement negotiations and ensuring the successful delivery of exclusive projects whilst ultimately developing strategies to drive sales and customers into our stores.

Tell us how you went about applying for your job: After my master’s, I applied for the MDS graduate scheme. I completed an application process, telephone interview and finally went to an assessment centre.

Following acceptance onto the scheme, I completed four different placements over a two-year period within the food industry, at Syngenta, Maelor Forest Nurseries, Angus Soft Fruits and Iceland. Each role was completely different and included operations and project management, account management and buying. My final placement was at Iceland as a category assistant, and after proving myself over the six-month placement I was offered a full-time position.

The MDS graduate scheme gave me an opportunity to work within four businesses each specialising in differing industries. This experience gave me a clear understanding of the culture and role that I wanted to be a part of post-MDS, which is invaluable, especially during the beginning of your career.

“Whatever the uncertainties about the years ahead, people will always want to eat and drink”

What’s the best part about working for a food & drink company? The most rewarding aspects of my job include being able to work within a fantastic team and with incredible brands, whereby any product idea can be turned into a reality. It is incredibly rewarding walking our stores after the launch of products you’ve been a part of.

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? One is that you need a large amount of experience in order to progress. I have found that the industry wants highly motivated and passionate individuals who challenge assumptions, and that is one of the main drives for progression.

Secondly, that every product launch is carefully calculated and as a result is guaranteed to succeed. I work for a business that launches hundreds of new products numerous times a year – not all products succeed, but each launch teaches us a valuable lesson. Some businesses will take a huge amount of time deliberating if a product should be launched and carry out extensive consumer testing. We prefer to launch and let our customers decide, with the only risk being that the product will be refreshed if unsuccessful at the next launch window.

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? Working in the UK retail environment can be both challenging and incredibly rewarding. It’s a fast-paced industry, and you must be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, whether it’s dealing with busy periods, customer demands or unexpected changes in stock levels.

There is a constant need to keep up with customer trends and demands, as well as the fierce competition from other retailers. Try to gain practical experience where possible and stay updated on consumer preferences, market trends, and emerging technologies.

Be resilient and embrace feedback to improve your skills. Stay open to learning and adapt to new challenges and opportunities – the environment can be highly rewarding. It’s a customer-focused industry, and there is a great deal of satisfaction in providing excellent customer service and helping people find the products they need.

What’s your ultimate career dream? I am committed to continuously challenging myself and expanding my knowledge of the industry and its diverse roles. My primary focus is on personal growth and contributing to a company that appreciates and provides regular opportunities for learning, development, and progression.

My ultimate goal is to become a successful leader in the retail and grocery industry. While I haven’t extensively contemplated the long-term trajectory of my career, my immediate priority is to surpass all expectations and explore the opportunities that arise from this.

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