Sasha Holt Mc'Nean

Name: Sasha Holt

Age: 29

Job title: Head of marketing

Company & location: Nc’nean in the London team

Education: University of Bristol for Theology

Why did you decide to go for a career in food & drink? I had always worked in food as a teenager, cheffing for catering companies, then as a private chef in the Alps in my gap year after school. I have been obsessed with food since the age of about 12 – possibly because my dad is a farmer, so I felt very close to the production side. My siblings are just the same too. My brother is actually a farmer now and also runs a supper club so I think it’s in the genes. After cheffing throughout university, I decided to put down the knives and look into a career in food and drink marketing so I didn’t lose the love of cooking for my family and friends. Since then, I’ve worked for Mr Organic, Peppersmith and now Nc’nean, a small organic distillery on the west coast of Scotland – but I am part of the London team.

Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): My job is pretty varied, but in short involves writing and executing the marketing plan and strategy, including budgeting, creating campaigns, and managing PR and paid digital agencies. I also do a lot of hands-on stuff like designing all the marketing materials, and working on packaging design, organic social content and copywriting (which is my favourite part!). I also manage our events exec who takes our delicious whisky and botanical spirit to various events across the country.

What does a typical day look like for you? Again it’s super varied. I might spend a whole day in meetings or on calls making strategic decisions, asking questions like: ‘should we invest in another digital marketing campaign to amplify our net zero message’ or ‘should we put this spend into sampling with our top trade customers’. Or, I might be deep in an InDesign file artworking our latest sustainability report.

“I had an Instagram blog promoting sustainable British food and this opened lots of doors for me”

Tell us how you went about applying for your job: I was quite fortunate. I met the Nc’nean founder, Annabel, through my old manager Mike Stevens (founder of Peppersmith). When he sold Peppersmith, I decided it was time for me to leave too. Fortunately I got introduced to Annabel before a job spec was even written, then after a rigorous interview with our chairman I was offered a job. I remember thinking it was quite tough, and I definitely took a strategy deck with me, though I don’t think he ever asked to see it.

What’s the best part about working for a food & drink company? I think it’s the community of people in food and drink – especially the growing group of challenger brands, who technically are competitors but are always willing to help each other out. It feels like we are all in this together. The best part about Nc’nean specifically is the focus on sustainability. Every single thing we do is questioned against how it would affect the planet and also against ethics. We were the first UK whisky distillery to reach net zero for our own operations (Scopes 1 and 2) and I’m really proud our small team achieved this goal 20 years ahead of the industry target.

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? Well, the biggest misconception about working in whisky or wine specifically is that you have to know everything about it, and that it’s pretty traditional. That’s not the way it is at all – in fact, I knew nothing about whisky before I joined Nc’nean! I think a misconception about working in the food industry in general is that everyone is a chef or a cook. In fact, there are so many diverse roles outside of the kitchen or production that are super interesting – marketing, sales, finance, product development, design.

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? Email loads of companies you love, regardless of whether they are recruiting or not. And don’t be afraid of an internship as long as they are paying you, or you can afford to do it – they can give you amazing experience and if you work hard it won’t be long before you find a permanent role somewhere. Also, if you’re creative, do something creative with food on the side – I had an Instagram blog promoting sustainable British food and this opened lots of doors for me.

What’s your ultimate career dream? It used to be to have my own cookbook, but since I’ve been at Nc’nean this has changed. I would love to eventually be a marketing strategy consultant for small challenger brands in the food and drink space – giving advice and helping write marketing plans. Maybe it’ll have to be both!

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