Living on a working lowland sheep farm near Harrogate I see the trials and tribulations of practical farming every day, but my job away from the farm allows me to have an insight into both sides of the agricultural supply chain, sales and procurement.
I joined Hartleys, importers and manufacturers of vegetable ingredients based in Thorganby near York, in February 2013 as their key account manager; prior to that I worked in the potato industry for several years after graduating in 2010.
Hartleys has an 1,100-hectare arable enterprise around Knottingley and a state-of-the-art frozen vegetable processing facility in Thorganby.
We supply to manufacturers of products such as ready meals and soups.
Annually, Hartleys produce around 18,000 tonnes of frozen vegetable ingredients.
My role in procurement covers UK root crops and organic raw materials where I was brought in to grow sales and manage Hartleys’ largest customer account, Heinz. We are often tasked with sourcing the most challenging of ingredients, which means I often travel abroad to source products which are not available in the UK. I recently visited Austria sourcing organic peas and my next trip involves meeting a baby food manufacturing customer in Italy.
As a family run business we are a relatively small team, which means my job role is varied. My advice to a young person entering into the industry is to develop a diverse skill set and be able to offer a rounded package to a prospective employer. A degree is preferred but is no longer a differentiator; candidates need qualifications, work experience and personality.
I see my position as an interface between the fast-paced, highly corporate consumer-facing businesses that require the most stringent levels of specification and the modern day grower-businesses who supply the raw materials.
Traceability has been a huge driver over the past 10 years and my role in sales and procurement means the supply chain is shortened instantly.
Honest working relationships across the supply chain are the key to success in the agricultural industry as a whole. Modern day technology has encouraged us to become detached from elementary communication methods, I am a passionate advocate for talking to people face to face, and when it comes to farming there is no substitute.
Working transparently with my growers is key, likewise communicating clearly with my customers and managing their expectations, with a realistic approach to delivering a ‘living’ product which has a limited life and availability, is also an everyday challenge.
Did you know that 70 per cent of the frozen vegetable ingredients we consume in the UK come from central Europe? Our challenge is to convince the UK consumer that provenance, quality and food safety are important and the marginal difference in price is key to securing a longer term future for the industry.
To remain a sustainable industry we need the UK retail food manufacturers to back British produce. I am seeing an increasing interest from my customers to revert to British where possible, which means the message is finally feeding through.
Jessica is a member of Future Farmers of Yorkshire, a social and informative group supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, the Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network and the Yorkshire Veterinary Society.