Farming careers: Working in the food retail industry for Co-operative Food

Farming is only one of the professions available in the field of agriculture. The relationship between supermarkets and farmers is getting closer and this is opening up new career opportunities.

24-year-old Harriet Wilson found her livestock farming background was a valuable asset when she took up the role of agricultural development manager for dairy at Co-operative Food.

She tells us what it’s like to work in the food industry and outlines the skills needed to get on in this career.

See also: What skills do agricultural employers really want?

Harriet Wilson, agricultural development manager for dairy at The Co-operative Food

Harriet Wilson, agricultural development manager for dairy at The Co-operative Food

What do you do?

My role is agricultural development manager for dairy. I manage the relationship between Co-operative Food and the 198 dairy farmers who form The Co-operative Dairy Group.

They are spread across Scotland, north Wales, the north-west and the south-west of England.

I carry out farm visits to assess animal welfare, update farmers about the business and answer any queries they may have.

Another aspect of my job is working closely with the dairy commercial team, PR and marketing to ensure a joined-up approach to business planning.

I am also responsible for our presence at agricultural shows and I lead our digital and social media presence.

What’s your background?

I grew up on a beef and sheep farm near Stafford, which my parents still farm. My sister and I help out at weekends and I have my own small herd of British Blues.

How long have you been in your job?

I started in July 2014, so have been here 15 months.

It is my first permanent job, however I had previously spent a placement year within the agricultural team at McDonald’s UK head office in London and a summer placement within Sainsbury’s agricultural team.

I had also completed work experience with ABP, a traditional butcher’s shop, and during my time at university I wrote a column in Farmers Weekly.

Together these all gave me commercial skills, technical knowledge and valuable contacts. My work experience and previous roles were more important than anything in securing my current role.

What did you study and where?

I studied agrifood marketing with business studies at Harper Adams University.

What’s an average day like?

No day is the same in this role – I think that’s what appeals the most to me about it.

I could be at our support centre in Manchester (one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in Europe), on a farm, with our milk supplier Muller Wiseman, at an agriculture conference or even working at my kitchen table.

Why do you think some people may be put off working in the food and farming industry?

The industry is often portrayed in the wrong light in the media, which focuses on long hours, unpredictable weather or disease challenges.

I also think that some still believe you need a farming background to be successful. Yet some of the most successful people within the industry, who are open to new concepts and ideas, are from a non-farming background.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about it?

Get as much work experience in relevant areas as you can – even if it’s just a couple of days.

Find out what motivates you and what you are passionate about. Knowledge can be gained, but you need to be passionate about what you do.

What skills are needed by people who work for retailers?

Organisation and prioritisation are two. There are so many elements to the roles and it’s very fast-paced so you need to keep on track and tackle the most important things first.

Communication skills too – whether you are talking to producers, suppliers, press, colleagues or customers, communication is key.

Co-operative facts

Harriet Wilson with colleague Will Jackson

Harriet Wilson with colleague Will Jackson

How many people does the company employ?

The Co-operative Group employs 70,000 people across its different businesses.

What are the key recruitment areas?

Roles include agriculture, commercial, technical and logistics.

Any minimum qualifications?

Entirely dependent on the role.

How many people does it
take on a year?

The Agri team has an undergraduate placement – currently Jess Simms from Harper Adams who is with the company for 12 months – but it is now looking for someone to take over from Jess in July 2016.

Where can people find out more details about the schemes?

Does it employ people from non-farming backgrounds?

Yes – many.