My career in food and drink:

Zoe Smart, Channel Product Manager, Macphie

Q: How did you get started in your career in food and drink?

A: When I left school, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but I knew I loved everything about food; from where it came from to where it ended up. I was always interested in reading the ingredients and the nutritional content on the back of packs and yes, I am one of those people who take photographs of their food. I also enjoyed biological sciences, art & design and being practical and creative in my work.

When I went through university prospectuses, I found I was attracted to the food orientated courses and decided Heriot Watt was the best option for me. I organised a New Product Development (NPD) work placement between my third and fourth year and subsequently was keen to pursue that career path.

Q: What was your route to get to this job and what are the entry qualifications?

A: My degree was “Food Science, Technology & Management” which Heriot Watt no longer advertises, however there are many more courses now on offer, for example BSc (Hons) Food & Nutrition. My first job was working in a technical role for a fresh vegetable producer. I was placed on a graduate scheme where I spent three months in different departments. My route to Macphie was enhanced by the experience and skills I have gained from my initial NPD placement, my graduate role working for the fresh vegetable producer, working as a NPD Technologist developing salads and ready meals for Marks & Spencer and another technical role working for a coffee roaster.

I believe working hard for your grades and building experience across different businesses and industries, gaining transferable skills and demonstrating them at interview is important in getting the job you want.

Q: What did you study at school and how relevant were the subjects?

A: I strongly believe it's important to have an interest in what you want to do, so it was important that I enjoyed biology and science and studied hard to get the grades required. Depending on what avenue you decide to go down in the food industry, many subjects become relevant - even Art & Design for creative thinking and Packaging Design. I would recommend Biology and/or Chemistry and Physics if you want to focus on food science, research and/or a process engineering role. And if your school offers Business Studies and Marketing this would provide a good foundation for understanding the commercial aspect of the business you enter.

Q: What does your job involve and what are your main responsibilities?

A: My job as a Channel Product Manager involves project managing multiple new product briefs, working closely with internal and external customers to meet their aspirations and timescales. I often present the products directly to the customer or attend trials in their production facilities to understand how the product is used, and how and where it ends up. This is always a great learning process for us to make sure we get the product to work exactly how the customer needs it.

Q: What is the best thing and the worst thing about your job?

A: I really enjoy being involved in the entire product development process from concept to launch. I work as part of the “On the Go” and “International” business units within our structure which means I get to work closely with big high street names like Greggs, Krispy Kreme and Shake Shack. It's very rewarding being involved in making a concept become a reality and seeing customers buying, eating and enjoying the product on the shelf. The worst thing is when products don't make it through the whole development process. We are continually learning from our customers, processes and any challenges that we face and like to stay positive as where one door closes another always opens.

Q: Why were you attracted to a role in food and drink?

A: Mainly, my interest in food and science and that there are so many avenues and opportunities within the food industry to learn and grow your own career path literally from “field to fork”. At Macphie there are opportunities in sales, marketing as well as research and development, production & engineering and the supply chain which manages logistics. In addition you can work as a chef or a baker, and there are also opportunities in more mainstream roles such as purchasing, IT, finance, communications and human resources.

Q: Would you encourage others to consider a career in food and drink?

A: People will always need to eat and there is a growing population! If you are a real foodie and nutrition is your thing you can help to make an impact by making products healthier to meet government guidelines. You don't even need to be a foodie with opportunities in IT, finance and human resources or even go to university, as Macphie offer apprenticeships in engineering and in our bakery.

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Last reviewed: 21 Feb 2020