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Retail or Supplier – What’s better for your career in NPD?

Retail or Supplier – What’s better for your career in NPD?

09 October 2015

The reason I'm asking this question is that I was asked it myself recently by the winner of the Graham Jelfs Award - the award we sponsor for best Food Scientist on placement.It was a indisputably good question because like all good questions it made me think really hard.

A few years ago I would have been tempted to answer it fairly creatively - I may well have told the young student to go and work for a supplier - that way they could get a great perspective on the supply-side of food manufacturing, before perhaps joining a retailer later. But really the main reason I would have proffered this advice would have been to level the playing field - because the retailers at this point were taking all of the very best students and out pricing the suppliers with remuneration, conditions and career opportunities.

Nowadays I'm not so sure. As we all know, the UK Grocery Retail market has been blown apart in the last two years. The "security" argument of working for a major retailer has been exposed as facile - we are seeing unprecedented numbers of people being made redundant from the sector and a lot of uncertainty in that arena, especially recently. In addition, the discounters who have been successful in taking market share are perhaps more interested in SKU reduction and volume growth at the expense of mass innovation.

That said, suppliers have not had it any easier - the economic risks of the last few years have made suppliers into very reluctant innovators, beyond “refresh” innovation, tweaking with recipes and brand extensions. If there was a protest march about innovation then the suppliers would be carrying placards saying "no innovation without retail investment" and the retailers would have placards saying "no retail investment without innovation", a very unhelpful deadlock.

I feel that I can give an opinion on this, based upon working and recruiting in the sector for the last ten years and the answer (the honest answer) if you asked me today would be that I genuinely think both routes can offer the same level of career satisfaction, opportunity and remuneration. I also think that it would be healthy in any career to have a mixture of both environments and that having exposure from both sides of the fence would be attractive to most employers.

Have you worked in both sides or have thought about swapping? I would love to know your thoughts.


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