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!

New Team Members

March 19, 2021

In order to maintain growth and keep up with demand, MDS has welcomed two new team members.

Kelly Cook: Trainee Liaison Officer

Kelly has joined MDS as Trainee Liaison Officer and will be supporting People Development Manager, Gretta Ryan with Trainee development. She will provide support throughout the secondment process. This support will include helping Trainees to develop their skills within secondments and assisting with aspects of Level 5 training. Kelly joins MDS with a range of experience in team management, sales and learning and development. MDS appealed to Kelly due to the amazing opportunities and coaching MDS gives Trainees.

Kelly Cook

“The trainee blogs, social media updates and positive experiences the Trainees share demonstrate the wide range of opportunities MDS provide. Everyone is friendly, positive and enthusiastic, it’s all about seeing people achieve great things, it’s a perfect fit for me! I’m really looking forward to supporting our current and future trainees achieve their career goals.”



Thomas Divers: Talent Acquisition Officer

Thomas has joined MDS in the new role of Talent Acquisition Officer and will be supporting Business Development Manager, Kirsty Barden with our Graduate engagement plan. Tom will also take a leading role in Trainee recruitment and enrollment. Thomas’s experience is based in education and teaching and will therefore offer great insights into youth recruitment and engagement.

New Team MemberTom told MDS that he is really looking forward to joining the team:

“The opportunity to introduce recent graduates to the food and fresh produce industry attracted me to MDS. I am looking forward to joining MDS. I am excited to be part of a unique graduate scheme provider that encourages and supports future leaders and talent in the industry.”


The appointment of Kelly and Thomas will increase the number of office staff to eight which includes Izzy who joined in May 2020 as a Marketing Assistant.

We look forward to seeing how MDS can grow and develop with the appointment of new members to the MDS team!

New Team Members

RBOrganic: Member Profile

March 19, 2021
MDS Alumni: RBOrganic are recruiting

RBOrganic (part of Produce World) are looking for a diligent, self-motivated team player who can collect, assess and deliver valuable information to help the business retain its position as a leading organic roots supplier. Take a look at their Member profile to see what a role with RBOrganic looks like.

RBOrganic: Member Profile

RBorganic: Who we are

“RBOrganic (which forms part of Produce World Group) is a family business. We’re dedicated to using the very best of sustainable farming techniques in our own farming and collaborating with other expert farmers. We grow the finest quality potatoes, roots & alliums which we pack ourselves to supply to our customers. Our expertise is doing the difficult well. We love what we do and that gives us the edge in growing high quality, speciality and organic vegetables. It’s why we have long-standing partnerships with our customers in retail, wholesale and processing.”

Why is RBOrganic such a great place to work?

“RBOrganic is an inclusive, open and honest culture focused on growing our own! We provide opportunities for personal and professional development at all stages of employment.”

What makes the ideal RBOrganic team member?

“Versitile, proactive, honest, committed and willing to expand on their knowledge and skills.”

What are some of the perks of working at RBorganic?
  • Be part of the UK’s leading grower of organic vegetables
  • Contribute to sustainable and innovate farming techniques that are good for people and the planet
  • Be part of a fast-growing farming and food business with strong environmental and social values
  • Work independently, but with support from our teams and gain responsibilities fast
  • As part of a small team, you gain insights to many areas of our grower group and develop your market and industry awareness
  • Snack on our delicious produce as much as you like!

Are you passionate about sustainable and organic farming and have experience working within a farm environment?

Do you care about the environment and want to play a key part in growing the UK’s leading organic root vegetables?

Do you like to travel around the country and spend time outdoors?

Are you happy to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in when the going gets tough?

If your answers are ‘YES, that’s me!’ then take a look at the Organic Farms Technical Lead on our Vacancies page and APPLY NOW!


You Garden & Intercrop New Members

March 2, 2021

This month, MDS has welcomed two new Members, You Garden and Intercrop. The new Members are two very different businesses who will offer some great secondment opportunities for Trainees.

You Garden

You Garden are a Gardening e-commerce business based in Lincolnshire. Set up in 2011, You Garden specialize in “Gardening for everyone”. The business offers thousands of easy-to-grow plants that can be planted anywhere! As well as selling plants, the business has its own nursery spanning 11 acres with a brand-new purpose-built packhouse. You Garden provide online care instructions and videos so customers can get the best results with minimal experience.

When asked why You Garden decided to join MDS, HR Manager Laurence Beeken explained:

“Having experienced explosive business growth over the last twelve months, our long-term plans accelerated. We have found ourselves in the fortunate position of being able to look seriously at our future structure and begin the search for high-calibre talent.”

“We have wanted to start working with graduates for a number of years but have always been deterred by the amount of form-filling and admin that goes hand in hand with employing interns. MDS was recommended to us, and it was immediately apparent that they were the ideal solution to take the hassle out of the recruitment process.”

“The MDS mantra of working in partnership towards a common goal resonates with our own culture, and their proven track record of attracting high-calibre recruits makes them the ideal partner for our business.”


Intercrop is a pioneering salad growing business formed in 1992 and based in East Kent. The business has farms in Betteshanger and Sandwich Bay, as well as a Spanish operation based in southern Spain. Intercrop is an experienced fresh produce business working at the forefront of innovation. The Member business will offer some exciting secondment opportunities for Trainees.

General Manager Henry Robertson is an MDS-almunus and explained how the business will benefit from the MDS scheme:

“As a former MDS graduate myself, I am well aware of the benefits the program can bring. MDS is a great solution to combine our need for dedicated seasonal management and investing in the future for our business, as well as encouraging and helping the next generation accelerate their careers in fresh produce and agriculture.”

We are very excited to be working with You Garden and intercrop.

You Garden & Intercrop New Members

Gen Z: snowflake generation or perfect match for fresh produce?

February 25, 2021


With a surge in graduates applying to be part of the fresh produce industry, MDS COO Sapphira Waterson says knowing who Generation Z is and what they want from a job can increase productivity and profitability for businesses. 

At MDS, we specialise in graduate training in fresh produce businesses and have placed more than 150 Trainees from Generation Z, the term used to identify those born in the late 90s, in tough, demanding roles over the last five years. Sapphira, says this generation has a lot to offer the industry: 

With a thirst for variety, responsibility and self-improvement, what could be a more perfect fit for the fast-paced fresh produce industry? Gen Z is sometimes referred to as a snowflake generation for their perceived lack of resilience and oversensitivity but that annoys me. They have been in the workplace for a few years now and we’ve had an insight into how they tick. They have certain demands and priorities, but employers who recognise how they can get the best out of these twenty-somethings will be repaid with hard work and fulfilled, productive employees.” 

Gen Z-ers are not solely in it for the money, Sapphira explains; they want a fun place to work where they feel valued. They like to be given responsibility and accountability but also thrive with regular check ins from managers and colleagues, even if it’s just for five minutesThey are self-aware and prepared to learn from failure but need more emotional support than their employers may have had as they entered the workplace.

Admirably self-aware, this generation sees feedback as vital to their self-improvement, and managers need to leverage this to push their mentees to their best potential. They tend to need more emotional support as they learn resilience, and while this may grate on baby boomers who worked hard and late, and sometimes for free, to get their rung on the ladder, at MDS we have seen the positive results of nurturing young people in a demanding role. And why be tough if we can get the results another way? 

Sapphira says to retain Gen Z-ers in the business, they need to feel valued and to see clear opportunity for growth and career progression. This goes beyond salary - and not just to pensions and benefits that give them security - but to feeling a respected part of the team. Variety in the job, and open conversations about where career opportunity lies are also vital.  

A recent survey carried out by MDS shows that for young people, priorities have shifted, pre- and post-Covid outbreak, from wanting a good salary to wanting stability, and a recognition that the food industry offers this. A doubling in applications to MDS’ graduate training programme has shown how the pandemic has boosted the food industry’s image, not only in terms of job security, but as a diverse and dynamic place to work with challenge and reward. 

MDS recruits graduates from across disciplines including engineering, agriculture, food science and technologySteve Carter of Fleurie Nurseries says that MDS not only identifies capable future talent that works well in this industry but supports both the Trainees and the managers to nurture it: 

By their very nature, MDS Trainees are aspiring managers and MDS’ Leadership Programme supports them to rapidly develop strong leadership skills, but it’s more than this. The MDS team is also there to give the emotional support and extra mentoring that brings these young people on and supports our managers with training in how to maximise on the touch points for this generation, such as being ‘there’ more; giving them autonomy and how to keep them in the business. Having an MDS trainee has been particularly useful in the last few months when we need self-starters – especially if they are working remotely – who can perform under pressure as we have had to focus on the constantly changing demands of the supply chain.” 

In the same way that the fresh produce industry has flexed to adapt to the buying habits of Generation Z, Sapphira says so it needs to when employing them: 

We’ve seen that, as consumers, Gen Z look for a rewarding experience, authenticity, social responsibility and brands with purpose. The same multi-dimensional decision making is applied to their career choice. In fact, they see themselves as consumers in the job market, having paid for three or four years of further education. Their approach is, what can you give me? Although taking Gen Z into your fold may require a little more nurturing and connection, we are not going back so businesses need to adapt, and by working with the positives this generation brings, employers will not see snowflakes melting but strong, able young people with a new perspective. 


Top tips from MDS COO Sapphira Waterson: 

Give them responsibility with accountability

Gen Z thrive on a challenge and feel valued and driven if they are also accountable. 

Keep the communications network open and give regular feedback 

Gen Z are communaholics, used to being constantly in touch. They perform better with regular contact from their managers, even if it’s brief check in, and, self-aware and keen to constantly improve, they thrive on feedback. 

Variety and progression 

Keep them interested with variety and talk openly about opportunity for their progress in the business 

Trust them to do the job 

They prioritise mental and physical wellbeing, and where baby boomers would have worked late to be seen to be diligent, you are more likely to see this generation work fewer hours to maintain their health and happiness, but their work time will count. 

City Food Lecture 2021

February 22, 2021

City Food Lecture

MDS acquired access for all Trainees to attend the virtual 2021 City Food Lecture on the 10th February. The City Food Lecture is a staple in the food and fresh produce event calendar and offers valuable insights for the year ahead.

The event

This year’s lecture was delivered by Ocado retail CEO Melanie Smith, who discussed retail technology’s future and how Ocado has adapted to changes in consumer habits. MDS Trainees were also able to participate in a Q&A session chaired by BBC Farming Today presenter Charlotte Smith, food entrepreneur Charlie Bigham, IGD Chief Economist James Walton and Chief Executive of London City Harvest Laura Winningham. This panel session allowed attendees the opportunity to pose questions and interact with panel experts. MDS Chair Christine Tacon was able to ask the panel how they would encourage young people to join the industry. The panel all agreed that the industry is crucial, exciting, and offers many different opportunities.

A valuable opportunity

The event offered MDS Trainees a crucial development opportunity and even gave them the chance to network with attendees. Group 46 Trainee Oliver Gilding said of the event, “I thoroughly enjoyed my first City Food Lecture.”

“It was fascinating to hear Ocado Retail Ltd CEO Mel Smith give her perspective on the last 12 months and how customers’ new shopping preferences won’t be changing anytime soon. I’d like to thank MDS Ltd for organising access for their Trainees. It was truly fascinating to hear about the future of retail technology.”

Group 48 Trainee Ruby Powell agreed, “It was great to have the opportunity to attend the first-ever virtual City Food Lecture.”

“Mel Smith spoke so passionately about Ocado retail and how automation within the business is driving efficiency. This technology is really exciting! I hope the food and farming industry continues to use innovative ways to improve efficiency and bring value to customers.”

Thank you CFL

Thank you to CFL Chair, John Giles, and organisers for creating a fantastic event and for inviting MDS.