Engineering Matters

June 18, 2021

Putting Trainees in engineering roles is not always a natural choice for Member Businesses, but if you can put a non-marketeer in a marketing role, why not do the same for engineering? asks Richard Whittle, Director of food manufacturing experts, Protolan, and MDS board member.

Engineering in Fresh Produce

Innovation, technology and sustainability are at the heart of our 21st century fresh food businesses and we need to capitalise on the motivated, digital savvy and eco-aware generation coming into the workplace set to drive it forward.

Whilst there may only be a small proportion of engineers coming into the MDS graduate training programme, there’s still plenty of opportunity to integrate MDS Trainees into engineering roles, and there is much to be gained from bringing in a fresh perspective. After all, we put non-marketers into our marketing departments to learn on and from the job.


By our very nature, at Protolan, engineering is core to our business, and since we took our first Trainee in 2014, having been introduced to MDS by a client, we’ve had a mix of engineering and non-engineering graduates, both of which have been assets to us and our clients. While an engineering degree helps, whether it’s chemical, mechanical or food engineering, and graduates in this discipline have the skills and greater understanding to take on projects quickly, ultimately engineering is about creating solutions. It takes an analytical approach, attention to detail and lateral thinking, skills which many MDS Trainees boast. Combined with their generation’s natural affinity with technology and environmental awareness, they have strong credentials for one of the most fundamentally important areas of modern production.

Engineering spans the supply chain. Those working in sustainability and packaging are influencing engineering as much as those in NPD, manufacturing and operations. Our first Trainee Marina Llorente brought with her a particular interest in the environment and sustainability and, introducing her outlook to an area of increasing commercial significance, she helped educate us as a business.

MDS Trainees

One of our most recent Trainees, Ivan Erviti, has a food engineering degree completed in his native Argentina, and by the time he’s fulfilled four secondments in different disciplines, he will have a much greater understanding of how engineering fits into the wider industry and bring that insight into his future roles. His management training will be a distinct advantage that will undoubtedly elevate him into senior roles in the business. In my experience, engineers are largely under-represented at CEO and COO level in the fresh produce industry, and having engineering intelligence at management level also benefits businesses as they innovate and progress.

At Protolan, our projects are constantly changing, and we don’t have a specific secondment role – it could be involvement at implementation stage or it could be a feasibility study into operational improvement, but what we love about MDS Trainees is that they are motivated, keen to get stuck in, and are not precious. They are embraced into our business because they embrace it. It’s what MDS is all about and it’s a huge credit to the team that they can identify the calibre and potential that match each of the Member businesses.


As businesses in the sector, and proud MDS Members, on the one hand we have a role to challenge young people’s perceptions and champion the exciting, rapidly developing opportunities in food and fresh produce and entice more bright engineering minds in to drive our industry forward. We need to encourage them, particularly to do this via MDS, so that as an industry we can develop managers who will bring engineering acumen to the top table. On the other hand, we need to include MDS Trainees from all disciplines in our engineering and technology teams, bringing fresh viewpoints to these, but also to future roles, to help progress innovation, efficiency and sustainable solutions across the sector.

We should not be working in ‘discipline’ silos. If the mindset is that engineering can only be done by engineers, it doesn’t drive innovation and awareness of change across the industry. The whole food industry ultimately gains from that.

Protolan takes two MDS Trainees for each six-month secondment. The roles are varied and change with each placement.

Birds Eye joins MDS

June 16, 2021

We are pleased to announce that Birds Eye, the UK’s leading frozen food brand, have become an MDS Member. The business has joined through their UK Agricultural division and will offer some exciting hands-on secondments.

Birds Eye Secondment

The business have already seconded their first Trainee into an Assistant Agricultural Fieldsperson role. Group 50 Trainee, Harry Vandeleur, has started his MDS journey early specifically for the role, which is heavily involved with pea production and freezing operations. The Trainee graduated from RAU in 2018 with a degree in International Business Management in Food and Agribusiness.

Birds EyeHarry is excited to start his MDS journey:

“Being able to work for four different companies in four varied roles is a great opportunity so the potential for development is huge. Most importantly, the experience I can gain through MDS will set me in good stead for a bright future within the food industry.”

The group 50 Trainee is looking forward to his secondment with Birds Eye. “Working for a market leader means that I am exposed to the highest standard of operations. As a result, I will be able to develop my communication, time-management and organisational skills.”


Why MDS?

Birds Eye are looking forward to utilising MDS and most importantly working with our high-calibre Trainees. James Hopwood, Agriculture Manager for the UK and Italy, explained:

“It’s a fantastic milestone for Birds Eye to have joined the MDS Membership. Focused on our Agriculture division and our unique and sector-leading pea production and freezing operations, we feel strongly that the graduate scheme will be of significant benefit in ensuring a pipeline of high-calibre individuals into our succession planning.”

James highlighted the importance of MDS within the wider industry:

“Supporting young people in the industry in the early phases of their career, building on their core values and embedding resilience and accountability is so important.”

Birds Eye


May 14, 2021

MDS is taking part in the first-ever #AgriLeadershipWeek running from 17th-23rd May. The campaign is a collaboration between a range of key organisations within the Agricultural sector, this includes:

  • MDS
  • The Farmers Charitable Trust
  • The Worshipful Company of Farmers
  • Nuffield Farming Scholarships
  • The Institute of Agricultural Management
  • The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
What is #AgriLeadershipWeek?

The campaign has been developed to target current and aspiring leaders. It aims to raise awareness of leadership training opportunities within Agriculture. Currently, less than 35% of UK farmers have any formal management training*. This is despite the fact that a range of Agricultural leadership training programmes have shown a return on investment of 13:1.**

MDS Leadership Training

There are a range of training programmes available to current leaders and also aspiring leaders at any career stage. MDS provides management and leadership training to those who are in their early careers. On the MDS grad-scheme, Trainees have the opportunity to gain a Level 5 Leadership and Management Apprenticeship, accredited by CMI***. The training combines leadership and management training with a focus on the food and fresh produce industry.

There is also a bespoke training course available to all MDS Members. This is accessible via the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy. Currently, 42 Member employees are on the MDS training course.

Why is Leadership Training so important?

MDS Chair, Christine Tacon, attended the Beanstalk Global #AgriLeadershipWeek Broadcast. The Broadcast featured representatives from all of the organisations taking part in the campaign. The representatives all shared their experience with leadership training with one common thread, it changes your life.

Christine highlighted the importance of the campaign:

“This is the first time the Leadership training organisations in the farming industry have worked together. I am delighted that MDS is included. We are playing a huge role in training future leaders at the very start of their careers. I would hope that all our alumni have already recognised the importance of keeping that training going.”

“You should never be too busy to get trained, and you don’t have to be a leader to benefit from leadership training.”

How to take part in #AgriLeadershipWeek

Anyone can take part in the campaign simply by investing time into leadership development. If you would like to get involved, share your pledge on how you will make a positive change to improve your leadership skills and share it to #AgriLeadershipWeek to be in the chance of winning a signed book from an industry expert

Christine Tacon’s Leadership Pledge

Find out more:

#AgriLeadershipWeek Leadership Competition. Share your leadership pledge to #AgriLeadershipWeek to be in the chance of winning a signed book from a leadership expert.

*According to data from AHDB

**Independent evaluation of AHDB EFM (Effective Farm Manager) and PMDS (Professional Manager Development Scheme) according

***Chartered Management Institute

RAU Alumni Lectures – Career Advice from MDS Chair

April 27, 2021

Despite the busy changeover period, MDS Trainees are continuing to demonstrate an enthusiastic can-do attitude! This month, group 48 Trainee Max Pitman took part in the exciting RAU 175 Alumni virtual Lecture event alongside MDS Chair Christine Tacon.


The Alumni Lecture series celebrates the university’s 175th anniversary and feature expert leaders from across the industry. Christine sat down with Max via the live webinar to discuss her fascinating career background, covering a portfolio of commercial expertise. Christine and Max had plenty of advice for young people interested in starting a food and fresh produce career.

Find a Mentor

Christine’s main advice for people starting a career in food and fresh produce? Finding a mentor.

“One of the things I advise people quite early on in their career now is to try and get themselves a mentor. Someone you pick up along your career that has an interest in helping you. If you identify somebody that is like that, cling on to them and ask them for advice as you go through your career.”

According to Christine, MDS opens Trainees up to a vast network of industry professionals who are willing to help them.

“There are around 22 Trainees starting with you and another 60 Trainees that are there to try and help you. There’s an Alumni network of around 500 people across the industry.”

Extensive Career Portfolio

Christine reflected on her extensive career that spans Vodafone, Mars, Cooperative Farms, her role as the first-ever Grocer Code Adjudicator (GCA), and, for the last five years, Chair of MDS.

“I think I could say in many ways actually that my career was a series of successes or sequence of failures. When I look back, the most enduring impact I had in my career has always been on people. Helping people achieve what they thought they couldn’t.”

MDS Graduate Scheme

Christine highlighted how the MDS graduate scheme is the perfect career step for “can-do” individuals who love a challenge.

“MDS Trainees are thrown more than they think they can handle, but their can-do attitude means they’re not easily fazed. There may be some placements they don’t enjoy, but they will get through it. The most common feedback is that they learn the most about themselves in the toughest six months.”


Max, who is currently going into his 2nd secondment, said the MDS programme has been the most extraordinary experience, particularly in a year dominated by lockdown: 

“The immersion I had was unbelievable. You join a company for six months and you have to make an impact. It’s full speed from day one! I was fortunate to be in the office every day, but some Trainees have never actually been to the office. I think if we can make it through this, normal life will seem relatively easy.”

“The support from MDS and Finsbury has been excellent. The way the Trainees club together and support each other is amazing.” 

Thank you RAU

Max found the virtual event very insightful. “I enjoyed the webinar! It was the first time I had done anything like that, so it was a very new experience. Christine answered every question brilliantly, and we had a very insightful discussion.”

Christine Tacon also enjoyed being part of the event.

“I was honoured to be asked to be part of the event. MDS has recruited a number of graduates from RAU, and I was pleased that Max was prepared to ask the questions. There were some very thought-provoking questions. I hope that the RAU students found it useful.”

Branston: Member Profile

April 23, 2021
MDS ALUMNI: Branston are recruiting

Branston have a new and exciting role within the Agronomy Team for a candidate who is passionate about sustainability and the environment. As an Innovations Agronomist, you will help the business to deliver carbon neutral status in the future. You will utilise new technologies and data, alongside current field and crop knowledge, to improve crop quality and reduce environmental impact.

This is the perfect role for MDS Alumni.


Branston: Who we are

“Branston is one of the largest buyers, packers and marketers of potatoes in the UK. Our customers are key retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers in the food industry. We work closely with the growers who supply us – in the UK and beyond. We’re a truly end-to-end business – fully utilising all of the crop in a wide range of fresh and prepared products – as well as investing in a sustainable future for the potato industry.“

Why is Branston such a great place to work?

Amy Guevara is an Account Executive. She spent two of her MDS secondments at Branston and accepted a permanent position there when she finished MDS. When asked why she loves working at Branston, she said, “I love it, not only for the role but also the company culture. Everyone always ensures we provide the best service possible to our customers. They’re always willing to help and answer any questions.”

Group 46 Trainee Charlotte Hedderly is in her second secondment at Branston as a Junior Production Manager. She too loves the company culture, “I’ve been here for two of my secondments, and the company culture is amazing. Everyone is willing to help each other. As a fast-moving business, it allows you to put your problem-solving skills to the test and certainly keeps you on your toes, but morale is always high.”

What are the perks of working at Branston?

According to Amy, “Branston is great at celebrating milestones. There are some great perks too, from free potatoes to Easter Eggs and hampers. Despite Christmas being our busiest time of the year, HR and the management team always ensure there is a festive atmosphere.”

What is the ideal Branston team member?

The culture at Branston is all about supporting one another. That’s why Amy thinks that the ideal Branston team member is “In my opinion the ideal Branston team member is always willing to help and support others, ensuring things are done on time, efficiently and safely. A keen eye for detail and a positive attitude are absolutely key!” says Amy.

Charlotte agrees, “I would say the ideal Branston team member is willing to get stuck in and give support where needed. They can work in a thorough and systematic way that ensures all tasks are completed. Like Amy said, a positive attitude is key as the working environment and culture is always positive.”

Are you passionate about sustainability and the environment?
Do you have previous experience as a fields person or agronomist and are comfortable in a field environment?
Do you enjoy a hands-on practical approach and have an ability to build influential grower/farmer relationships?

If your answers are yes, take a look at the Innovations Agronomist role on our vacancies page and APPLY NOW!

Record numbers of Trainees taking on permanent roles with Member companies

April 20, 2021

It’s that time of year again that we say a bitter-sweet farewell to yet another MDS Trainee cohort. By the end of April, 13 Trainees will be leaving us and we are happy to say that all of them have been offered full-time roles, with 9 Trainees having accepted positions with Member companies. We also have 2 Trainees who have extended their contracts with MDS, to continue their development, which has been made possible due to the high level of secondment requests this year. We are delighted with the number of Trainees taking on roles with member companies, and the high number of permanent role offers is exceptional given the effects the last year has had on employment rates and job openings. Member companies that have taken on Trainees into full-time roles include Syngenta, Aldi, Angus Soft Fruit, Finsbury foods, Fyffes, Protolan, and DPS.

We are very proud of what Group 45 has achieved during their time with MDS. All the Trainees have completed their L5 Apprenticeship in Leadership and Management and we are currently awaiting their results. They have all made a lasting impression and we will be watching their career progress with interest.

Iceland joins MDS

April 1, 2021

This month, another prominent British retailer joined the MDS programme. Iceland, the UK’s leading frozen food specialist, has become an MDS Member.


The 50-year-old supermarket chain has over 900 stores throughout the UK. The growth in online shopping demand has resulted in the retailer investing in thousands of new roles across its business.

Iceland have also decided to invest in the future leaders of food and fresh produce by becoming an MDS Member.

“MDS appears to be the perfect solution to remove cost and risk”

Iceland HR Director Helen Tindle explained why Iceland decided to join the programme:

“Iceland are excited to start taking placements through the MDS graduate scheme and to seeing high-calibre MDS Trainees start to develop within our business. Getting new talent into the food industry and retail is vital if we are to continue to grow our own future leaders. MDS appears to be the perfect solution to remove cost and risk from the typical route into graduate recruitment schemes.”

Proven success

Helen explained that the business was very aware of the success of MDS Trainees before becoming a Member;

“We are proud to have MDS alumni amongst our senior leadership team and have seen the success they have brought to the business. We are really pleased to be in a position to work with MDS to help develop Trainees from the beginning of their journey.”

Iceland Foods Trading Director Andrew Staniland is an MDS Alum and took part in an MDS Beanstalk Global webinar in 2020. The retailer also recruited group 44 leaver, James Moran, in October.

The Member has already taken on three Trainees into commercial based secondments, Danielle Grootes, Oliver Gilding and Harry Weston.

We are looking forward to seeing some of the exciting opportunities Iceland can offer Trainees.


Cobrey Farms: Utilising Trainees for the Easter Peak

March 31, 2021

“It’s good for us to have young, intelligent people asking us questions and challenging our thinking,” says Catherine Chinn, HR Director of family fruit and vegetable business, Cobrey Farms in south Herefordshire.  

For the 12th year, the UK’s largest asparagus grower, Cobrey Farms has appointed two MDS Trainees to join its management team to see them through its harvest months 

This starts with rhubarb and asparagus in March, through to sugar snap peas, French beans, tenderstem broccoli and blueberries ending in September.  

“We need smart, motivated people to embrace the role for a challenging and extremely busy six months,” says CatherineWe don’t have the capacity within the permanent staff to take on these roles, and MDS Trainees are ideal. They’ve been through a strenuous selection process before they get to us so we know the calibre is up there, and MDS is brilliant at knowing the type of person that we want and need. The roles are not project-based, from day one they are part of the management team, attending management meetings, taking on hefty responsibility and making planning decisions. We are all busy, and we all have to get on with it. 

Cobrey Farms

Established in 1925, Cobrey Farms is a Chinn family partnership farming 1,000 hectares in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire and SuffolkThe business invests heavily in the research and development of new crops, varieties and growing techniquesJohn Chinn  is a passionate scientist, and Cobrey Farms is at the forefront of innovation and season extension for traditional UK produce, growing in both tunnels and open fields. His two sons, Henry and Chris manage the production, and packhouse and marketing respectively, selling to major retailers and wholesale.  


The two MDS Trainee roles – Packhouse Assistant and Trials Officer – support the small core permanent team of 35and there are up to 1300 pickers on site at this time of year.  

As Packhouse Assistant, current Trainee, psychology graduate Sophie Reay, is responsible for stock control, dispatch and wholesale orders.  

We really believe in stretching the Trainees, as that benefits them as well as us, says CatherineWe have got better over the years at defining their role and giving the Trainees the support and challenge that works and meets both of our expectations. 

When a Trainee starts, for the first month they will focus on learning the business, the terminology, be encouraged to use the analytical side of their brains, getting used to systems and how to communicate; then it’s full-on consolidation for the next five months. 

Secondment Managers

It’s great to see the free training MDS is now offering for Secondment Managers. Knowing how to best progress placements, give clear direction and define what you both want to achieve makes a huge difference. The real coup in all of this is the support that Gretta and the team at MDS gives both us and the Trainees so that we both get the most from it. That is invaluable.” 


Cobrey Farms trials lead the way in the industry. They have pioneered season extension, while improving tasteconsistency, production costs and environmental sustainability. They are currently involved with trials with Cranfield University to maximise the output per litre of water, developing practical large-scale water harvesting and recycling systems for protected cropping; and are also exploring how to mitigate soil erosion.  

The trials rolecurrently filled by International Business Management graduate Angus Bartlett, starts with three months of trials reporting, followed by three months assessing performance and areas for improvement in the blueberry fields.  

Giving the Trainees exposure to all parts of the business, including importantly the skills that are absorbed rather than taught, accelerates capability, says Catherine: 

“Being a small business, Trainees with us quickly develop an understanding of how it all works. They are part of management meetings, have desks near the partners and other colleagues so they learn from overhearing conversations or calls to customers which helps them understand the buying and selling, for example. In the packhouse, they are learning to identify good people skills. There are some skills that you can’t teach. They never stop learning when they are here and develop a wide skill set quickly, which ultimately helps our business. 

The two MDS Trainees report directly to their line managers but have regular catch ups with Catherine as their Secondment Manager. This allows her to ask questions that those closer to the job might not, and vice versa. 

“It’s a two-way process,” says Catherine. “They challenge us with questions that make us think about what we are doing and is it the right way. That is so important. 


Passionate about inspiring and developing young people, Cobrey Farms hostregular farm visits as well as opening its gates for LEAF Open Farm Sunday. Cobrey Farms will usually have MDS Trainees on their first placements, as they need to start a month before the usual start date to get them up to speed by the time the season is in full flow. 

“When the Trainees first arrive, they can be like rabbits in the headlights, and I love seeing how quickly they develop, says Catherine. “It’s really rewarding when they present back to MDS at the end of their two-year placement to see how much their experience at Cobrey Farms has shaped them. On several levels, MDS Trainees are a genuine asset to us. They are a fundamental and essential part of our team every year.” 

Apprenticeship Levy Tips

March 30, 2021
As an employer, are you aware that if you don’t use it you will lose it? 

You might be surprised at how much money you are losing each month from your Apprenticeship Levy pot,” says Sue Burrell, of The Apprenticeship College, which MDS partners with for our training.  “Each payment you make has a shelf life of two years, and businesses are losing thousands of pounds each month that they could be using to invest and upskill their staffThe Apprenticeship College has a levy calculator that can be used to ensure you don’t fall into this trap. 

Tell me more… 

If you have a wage bill more than £3m per year, 0.5% of your payroll will be collected by HMRC as an Apprenticeship Levy. It will be credited to your Apprenticeship Service Account (ASA) and topped by an additional 10% by the Government. If it’s there, why not use it?  

How does this apply to me? 

The good news is that MDS can help you recover 100% of that to fund training delivered by us, with The Apprenticeship College, to your existing employees.  

You can develop or reskill existing employees by signing them up to the MDS training programme. This allows you to maximise your levy and develop your staff delivering a measurable return on investment. 

How much can I recoup? 

Apprenticeship Levy recovery values range from £3,000 to £27,000 per apprentice. You are not limited to the number of apprentices you can train, and even if you have used up all of your levy pot, you may be eligible for additional co-funding for up to 90% of the cost. 

What if I am not a levy payer? 

For non-levy paying companies, as a Member you can access the MDS training at a much lower cost of 5% to train existing staff. For example, the Leadership and Management programme would require a Member contribution of £350 and the remaining 95% would be funded by the government.  

How does it work? 

MDS works with The Apprenticeship College to deliver our rigorous management training which results in a Level 5 Leadership and Management Apprenticeship, accredited by the Chartered Management Institute, and tailored to the fresh produce industry 

This is what our MDS Trainees are taking time out of placements to complete during their two-year traineeship, and is available to your existing staff as a Member

You can put your existing employees through the same management training programme and use your apprenticeship levy to fund the training. 

This usually equates to 22 days of off-the-job training over two years. Members who have 12 or more employees who they want to put on the apprenticeship programme can have the training delivered on site and a schedule can be bespoke to that business. Members with 1 – 11 employees will form cohort with employees froother Members. These cohorts usually run parallel to MDS groups and start in October and April each year. 

Call Kirsty on 01733 595123 to discuss it further and what would suit your business. 

To find out more, see here or watch this. 

Apprenticeship Levy

In the Press

March 23, 2021
Have you seen us in the press recently? The food and fresh produce industry are really seeing the benefit of the MDS scheme and our high-calibre Trainees! Here’s a summary:

Aldi to fund 60 produce industry apprenticeships over the next two years:

‘I predict that changes forced by Brexit will bring further opportunity for MDS’ – Tacon:

Graduates: The produce sector needs you:       

Grad programme provides career gateway into fresh produce industry:

Surge in Demand for Graduates to Commit to a Fresh Produce Career:

Is Gen Z the Perfect Pairing for the Fresh Produce Industry?              

Propagating talent in ornamentals:                      

Six questions on recruitment with Double H Nurseries managing director Andy Burton:

Take a look at some of our internal updates too!