Are you passionate about food sustainability and interested in pursuing a career in this crucial and innovative field? Look no further than Catherine, an MDS agri-food graduate turned Sustainability Manager at Angus Soft Fruits. Two years post-MDS, Catherine is an expert in her field. She’s here to share her insights on what it takes to succeed in this rewarding career path. In this exclusive interview with MDS, she reveals how she landed her dream job, the challenges she faces on a daily basis, and the key skills needed to make a real difference in the world of food sustainability. Get ready to be inspired!
Could you share with us your experience with the MDS graduate scheme and how it helped shape your career path?
During the MDS Graduate Scheme, I completed four different placements – at Kynetec, British Sugar, Lower Hope Fruit, and Angus Soft Fruits, and tried out different roles including marketing, project management, and technical. My final placement was at Angus Soft Fruits in Evesham, in the retail technical team. I stayed at Angus Soft Fruits for my permanent position after completing MDS. I moved to their Arbroath office as the Sustainability & Ethical Coordinator. I’ve been working at Angus Soft Fruits for two years now, and have been promoted to Sustainability Manager.
The MDS Graduate Scheme gave me an opportunity to travel to new parts of the UK, meet people in many different roles, and experience working at different-sized companies with very different cultures. I enjoyed being part of a network of other Trainees and applying the management techniques we learned during training in real-life situations.
Looking at your career journey so far, what would you say are the key lessons you’ve learned, and what advice would you give to your younger self?
When I was younger I spent a lot of time trying to improve on my weaknesses. I’ve learned that the right job will be one that allows you to use your strengths. So I would say focus on knowing what you’re good at and use that to your advantage. There’s definitely room to learn new things, but don’t be too hard on yourself for not being great at everything!
What motivated you to pursue a career in sustainability management, and how has your role evolved since you started?
I come from a scientific background – I completed my PhD at Heriot-Watt University before joining the MDS Graduate Scheme – so I was looking for a job where I could blend science with communication. Sustainability management is exactly what I was looking for because it combines elements of research and data analysis with high levels of engagement and collaboration with people in all parts of the business as well as suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders.
In the beginning, I spent a lot of time researching, joining webinars, and learning about sustainable agriculture, which helped me to map out our sustainability strategy. Two years in and my role is now focused on implementing that strategy while keeping up with changes in environmental requirements and communicating about what we’re doing both internally and externally.
How do you apply the knowledge and skills you gained from the MDS graduate scheme to your current role as a sustainability manager?
The most important skills I learned during the MDS graduate scheme were time management, communication, and decision-making. I manage a lot of different projects and time management is essential to delivering results on time, especially when managing contributions from different people. I still use the time management and prioritisation tools that we learned in the early stages of our training to help me manage my workload today.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a sustainability manager, and how do you overcome them?
In 2021, over a third of Europe’s largest companies had pledged to reach net zero by 2050 in their own operations – only 5% were on track to achieve their target. Two key obstacles preventing progress are confusion over which metrics to use to measure sustainability, and difficulty integrating sustainability into the business case. I’m tackling these challenges by using transparent, easily measurable sustainability objectives which make sense for our business and suppliers from both a financial and environmental perspective. That means tailoring our sustainability objectives alongside what people are already working on – if that’s growing high-quality berries, getting an order packed on time, organising quick turnaround haulage, or making a profit. Especially in times of rising costs, it can be a challenge to persuade people to invest in sustainability. Collaboration is essential to make sure that the targets I set for our environmental sustainability make sense on the ground and go hand in hand with sustainable business.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in sustainability management?
My career path was a bit unconventional because I didn’t study sustainability. I would say that developing good project management skills, being able to make a case for change and win people over, and learning about sustainability requirements in the food industry would all be a good starting point. Getting involved in projects which have a sustainability element e.g. reducing energy use, increasing efficiency anywhere in the business, would also be great experience to bring to the role.
What do you see as the future of sustainability in the agriculture industry, and how do you think companies like Angus Soft Fruits can play a role in shaping this future?
Long term, I can see Farmers getting very self-sufficient, producing their own electricity from renewable sources, and ultimately eliminating the use of fossil fuels by switching to electric vehicles. The challenging areas are things like fertilisers, plastic punnets and other things which are bought in and have a high carbon footprint. I think that’s where Angus Soft Fruits can support with trials and research to help improve efficiency and explore more sustainable alternatives.
How does Angus Soft Fruits approach sustainability, and what role do you play in ensuring the company meets its sustainability goals?
Our key focus areas are reducing carbon emissions, reducing fruit waste, using responsible packaging, and having a positive impact on biodiversity. You can read more on our website: https://www.angussoftfruits.co.uk/about-us/sustainability/
Could you share with us a project or initiative that you are particularly proud of implementing as a sustainability manager at Angus Soft Fruits?
I was thrilled to see Angus Soft Fruits win a Sedex Sustainability Award for Tech & Innovation in March for our innovative packaging. As Britain’s first berry supplier to import strawberries using new cushioned punnets instead of bubble pads, we’re leading the industry in reducing plastic and working towards 100% recyclable packaging. Over the next 12 months, we’ll eliminate over 42 million bubble pads from our global supply chain. Side by side these would reach from our office in Arbroath to our office in Huelva, Spain and back again – 3,764 miles!
How do you keep up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in sustainability, and how do you ensure that Angus Soft Fruits remains at the forefront of sustainable practices?
I subscribe to various newsletters which look at sustainability from different perspectives. Fresh Produce Journal is good to see what other companies are doing, Farmers Weekly often has articles about sustainability in agriculture, and the Sustainable Food Trust is also really useful. I need to stay up to date with what our retail customers are doing and regularly check their sustainability targets. There are lots of sustainability-focused events and webinars available – this year I attended FPC Future and the Low Carbon Agriculture Show, which were good networking opportunities and had some informative talks. I also work with experts, who help me keep up with developments in specific areas like carbon, food waste, packaging, and biodiversity.
If you’re a sustainability enthusiast interested in making a real difference then a career in the food industry might be the perfect fit for you. As an MDS agri-food graduate turned Sustainability Manager, Catherine has shared her insights on what it takes to succeed in this rewarding career path. Her story shows how the MDS graduate scheme helped her develop the skills and knowledge needed to excel in her field. Catherine’s experience proves that with hard work, dedication, and a passion for sustainability, you can land your dream job and make a real difference in the world. If you’re ready to be inspired, then the MDS agri-food graduate scheme might be your perfect fit. Find out more.