I was brought up on a mixed farm in the borders and I studied agriculture at college. My first job was as a teacher, but I think I felt stifled working indoors. It wasn’t long before I moved in to a technical position with a vegetable-producing business, which meant that I spent a considerable amount of time out in the fields with growers. In 1990 I moved into potatoes and over the next few years I learned everything I could about this challenging crop, in the classroom as well as out in the fields.
I joined the team at the Abernethy site in 1996. Initially it was a technical manager role - a cross-over position, working closely with growers and following crops from growing in the fields and all through the factory. I was keen to utilise my extensive knowledge of potato agronomy and I worked hard to set up many of the technical controls, systems and protocols that are taken for granted today.
When Branston took over the site in 2004 my job description changed to agronomy, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t see the crops through the full packing process. I’m passionate about getting the best out of potatoes and making sure that the end consumer does too. There is a very close working relationship between agronomy, procurement, technical and production at the site. Potatoes aren’t a straightforward product. There are many natural variations and challenges to be overcome. Tri-party decisions often need to be made and I aim to champion the needs of the consumer at all times.
As senior agronomist, I liaise closely with our Scottish grower group, whose potato growing covers around 2,500 hectares. I’ve got a bit of a reputation within the industry as never being one to shy away from a problem. I’ll challenge growers and colleagues if I believe they are falling short of the high standards they can deliver and I’m always looking out for ways to drive improvement. There’s always something new to learn in this industry and I’ll always push to make sure that we’re at the top of our game to keep us ahead of the competition.
I originally started working at the South West site back in 1996. I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years as the site has developed into what it is today. And I’ve done quite a bit of training to make sure I’m multi-skilled and able to deal with pretty much anything that needs fixing. I’ve done a mechanical engineering NVQ, fast track welding course, electrical regulation and done courses with Ishida, Yamato and Sandiacre to better understand our packing equipment.
Every day’s different. Okay a bearing is a bearing and a belt’s a belt, but every day is a new challenge and that’s what I enjoy. I’m not stuck doing one specific thing.
In 2017 I was promoted to Maintenance Co-ordinator. So now I’m planning and allocating jobs for the Engineering team. We’re a small team so we work very closely together and I still get plenty of opportunities to get hands-on. I’ve had a lot of support to help me grow in to the role too, because it is quite different once you’re taking responsibility for what the rest of the team is doing. Branston is good at that - looking after its people and helping them to find the jobs that are right for them.
Work is a big part of my life. So it’s great that everyone here gets on so well. Sometimes it feels like an extended family. We all have a laugh and a joke, but we do keep it professional. I look forward to coming to work each day. I’ve always said to myself if I’m coming to work and I don’t really want to be here then it’s time for me to move on. If I felt that there was no room for improvement or no way to progress there would be no point. Here there’s always something to learn and some new challenge to overcome. And that’s what I love about it.
I joined the South West team back in 2011 as a Quality Assurance (QA) Operative. I was 19 and it was my first proper full-time job. From there I moved in to a role on the Weighbridge, in Intake QA, which gave me some really useful experience.
In 2015 I was promoted to QA Team Leader. It can be quite challenging at times. Now instead of being the person in QA that would spot an issue with crops and report them to someone, I’m the person that any issues are reported to and I have to deal with them! It’s a lot of responsibility and I sometimes have to make quite difficult decisions to make sure that we do our best to delight our customers. We have a really good team here. They all understand what we need to do and they work together.
In 2017 I completed a Food Manufacturing Excellence (FME) course. I really enjoyed the project work that I did as part of this. We were working across different teams and departments, looking at ways to streamline processes and improve efficiency in the factory. In 2018 I’m starting a Food Science & Technology course run by the University of Lincoln. It’s a four-year degree level qualification, but it’s classed as an apprenticeship and there’s a large practical element to it. There’s a lot of distance learning, with some week-long study blocks at the uni too. It’s going to be a challenge, as I have a busy life already with work and family, but I think it’ll be worth it. I’ll get a really useful qualification out of it, which I hope will help me to advance my career much further with Branston.
Working at Branston, one of the best things is all the training and development. If you have a positive attitude, put the effort in and show that you’re willing to learn then Branston put the effort back in to you and you get recognised and rewarded for it.
I started at Branston in May 2016, working part-time whilst studying for a foundation degree in Agricultural Management. I’m from a farming background, where everyone helps everyone else out and works together as a team, so I was really pleased to find a workplace that’s like that too. From being a summer temp, I moved on to providing maternity cover for one of our agronomists. Now I’m also involved in procurement and grower payments. Branston has been really flexible with me. So during term time I work three days a week, then through the holidays I work full-time.
We work very closely together in the Agronomy team to make sure that all our growers are looked after. That’s what I really like about Branston – the teamwork. Everyone always helps each other out. So no matter what anyone else is doing or how busy they are if you’ve got a problem they’ll happily help you out. From coming in, knowing next to nothing, the support I’ve had from everyone has been amazing. It makes it all so much easier. I’m involved in all aspects of our local growers’ crops – from planting, right through to when they’re packed in the factory. I really enjoy going out in the fields, especially on a lovely summer’s day! I’ve also been involved on the trading side and I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the whole process from end to end.
There’s always something to learn in a business like this. Lots of my friends work in jobs that are quite unrelated to their uni courses and it’s all just about making ends meet, but for me there are lots of elements of work that I can relate to my course and vice versa. It’s a balance, and sometimes it can be a bit stressful and challenging, but overall I really love my job. I think it also helps me to add a level of professionalism to my assignments. I’m hoping to apply for the Graduate Development Programme next. Branston has given me lots of really great opportunities and I’d love to carry on working here once I finish my degree.
I started with Branston in August 2013. Initially I was with an employment agency but then during Induction one of the girls in QA suggested I should apply for a role that was being advertised for a machine operator. So I applied and I got the job.
It’s quite different from the sorts of jobs I did in Spain, where I was in an office. But then I don’t expect to go in to a new job as an expert. I’m a fast learner and I soon pick it up. It was hard at the beginning, but I enjoyed it and I’d much rather be active and moving around than stuck in front of a computer all day.
I’ve been given a lot of opportunities here at Branston. I’ve had training to help me in my current role and to upskill me so that I can be even more useful to the business. I like the way that the company spots potential and gives people the chance to show what they can do. For example, in 2016/17 I did the Food Manufacturing Excellence (FME) course. It was all very new to me, so it was a really big challenge, a bit overwhelming at times, but really good.
There were five of us on the course, all from very different backgrounds and different areas of the business, so we learned a lot from each other and we bonded really well. We worked on developing efficiencies and we’ve saved the company quite a lot of money, so they’ve seen that we really can do things when we put our heads together.
I think that the FME course is one of the things that helped me get promoted to Production Team Leader. Now I lead the whole of the shift in Production – machine operators, graders and packers. There’s still a lot of development for me in my current role. I’m learning how to be more efficient and I also provide cover for my manager when needed. It can be quite a challenge at times, but I know that the rest of the team are there to support me. And that’s what makes it worthwhile.
I started working at Branston in 2011, doing 16 hours a week while I was at college. As a Production Operative I was responsible for packing potatoes into trays and merchandising units as well as packing and labelling 20kg sacks. In August 2012 I went full-time and just over a year later I was promoted to a Vision Grader Operative, which gave me the opportunity to prove my communication skills as well as allowing more scope in planning and organising my area of work.
A year later I was promoted to the position of Team Leader and offered a place on Branston’s Food Manufacturing Excellence course. It’s a nationally-recognised SVQ level 3 training programme, which provides a range of tools and techniques to get the best out of people as well as helping to improve the way we work with our equipment and processes.
I am now in a position where I help with planning and scheduling as well as supervising production on a day-to-day basis. I make sure that everyone follows correct procedures so that we’re as lean and efficient as we can be. I’ve been able to implement many of the tools learned on the course, which is helping our team to hit some challenging efficiency and quality targets and making a major contribution to delivering a consistently great service for our customers.
I joined the company in 2012 as a Graduate Trainee, coming straight from completing a Business Studies degree at the University of Lincoln.
On the Graduate Development Programme I got the opportunity to move around the company undertaking projects in different departments such as, Operations, IT, HR, Field Services and Development. Throughout this process I realised the elements of a role that did and didn’t appeal to me, which led me to being an NPD Co-ordinator, managing the Waitrose and Booker fresh accounts as well as assisting with others.
Due to the NPD Manager leaving a few months later I stepped up and managed all of the customer accounts from an NPD point of view as well as trying to gain a larger share of these accounts and gain new ones, a tricky but steep learning curve. This experience has really helped as we’ve grown the team, and in May 2016 I was promoted to Senior NPD Manager. As well as focusing on growing our accounts for both the Fresh and Prepared businesses I’m also involved in longer term pipeline development and process improvement to support our overall business growth strategy.