Developing Resilient Future Leaders: Flourish in Food’s Mentoring Programme

The food and fresh produce industry, like many other sectors, faces the challenge of nurturing its future leaders. In an ever-evolving landscape, it’s essential to develop a pipeline of resilient and capable professionals who can steer the industry towards a sustainable and prosperous future. One powerful tool that often goes underutilised in this context is mentoring. Mentoring can be a game-changer, offering valuable support to those starting out in the industry through the advice and guidance of experienced industry professionals, and one organisation that’s leading the way when it comes to harnessing the power of mentoring is Flourish in Food.

Developed by a group of passionate industry professionals, Flourish in Food supports early industry talent to link up with leaders from across the industry, promoting collaboration across businesses. This unique organisation is supporting leaders to harness their experience and coaching skills and connect with eager young professionals, helping the future generation of food to thrive. We were fortunate enough to hear from both sides of the mentoring equation to learn more about how Flourish in Food is becoming a catalyst for growth in the industry and uncover the steps for developing rewarding and impactful mentoring relationships.

MDS caught up with Claire Martino, a Mentor on Flourish in Food’s programme, and Caitlin Cannon, her mentee to find out the importance and benefits of a mentoring relationship from both sides of the equation. Here’s what they had to say:

Meet the Mentor – Claire Martino: “Mentoring schemes are fantastic for forging potentially lifelong connections”

My name is Claire Martino and I have worked in Chilled Prepared Food for over 20 years, the vast majority of my career. After finishing uni, I worked for a structural adhesives & tooling resin manufacturer for 2 years. I didn’t understand a thing about their products and left to start working at Bourne Salads as part of Geest as a Marketing Assistant. Other than 6 months of redundancy before returning in April 2006, I have spent the rest of my career with Geest/Bakkavor; I love working in the food industry, analysing market/consumer trends/performance and defining category strategies and helping to influence business direction. I am passionate about what I do, am highly motivated and am not afraid to challenge; I am committed to leading and supporting high-performing teams to continue to grow and deliver their full potential without sacrificing what matters to them most – its this knowledge and experience (as well as the generic functional and industry knowledge & experience) that I have brought to my role as a mentor.

As a full-time Head of Marketing with two older teens and a self-employed husband, there isn’t a lot of time for hobbies, but I enjoy reading, exercising and cooking (as well as music, bingeing the odd box set and spending time with family and friends); my passion for self-development comes through here too – I recently bought a Peloton to help me progress my fitness, and via Peloton have joined an online Book Club which has also introduced me to other members of the Peloton community and books I would never have considered reading. I also use some of my spare time for further self-development too as I co-chair a local Lean In circle, as well as now being part of the Flourish in Food team.

Why Flourish in Food?

The motivation to become a mentor with FIF was really driven by a realisation that I had a fairly limited network outside of the organisation I worked for, and joining Flourish felt like an opportunity to grow my network, as well as hopefully helping a mentee to benefit from the experience I have gained in my career. I was then inspired so much by the positive experience I had with my mentee that I wanted to become a mentee myself to learn from someone else, which led ultimately to me joining the Flourish team to help them grow and expand their mentee recruitment beyond Graduates and Early years careers. The experience of getting to know Caitlin (my mentee) has been brilliant, she is inspiring in her energy and enthusiasm to learn, and took lots of what I shared on board, which in turn boosted my own confidence and self-esteem. I’ve also learned things from Caitlin, even though we didn’t set out to have a ‘reverse mentoring’ experience, so this was a bonus! And furthermore, I’ve gained some amazing friends and contacts in the Flourish team, and have also widened my network by joining mentee recruitment and networking events to talk about Flourish.

My Mentoring Approach

It’s really key to listen and understand your mentee’s needs; I’d say one of my values and skills is empathy, and so I’ve tried to use this as much as possible with Caitlin, and then shared examples of approaches to problems, or tools or resources (podcasts, books, websites etc) that I think could be beneficial, depending on what was on her mind each time we spoke, sometimes it was CV help, interview prep, other times just an opinion on an issue. Equally, I’ve let Caitlin own our relationship and let her drive what time and direction was useful for her – if she didn’t have any need to catch up, then there was no pressure from me to have a session; one strategy that I probably did encourage to ensure our conversations were useful, was for Caitlin to have some questions or thoughts prepared to discuss, and if possible to share them in advance so I could be as useful as possible.

Industry Impact

For me, I’ve seen the mentees I’ve been lucky to be paired with grow in experience, knowledge and confidence as a result of a different opinion or perspective, or someone else’s experience (be it positive or negative) (ie outside of their organisation, friends/family circle/network). I hope this has meant that they have progressed possibly a little quicker, a bit more enabled, and with more confidence than I perhaps did at the start of my career where I was feeling my way through on my own. Mentoring schemes like Flourish are therefore fantastic for forging lifelong connections to support, reassure and give independent perspective to individuals at any stage in their career.

The Future of Flourish in Food

I hope I continue to learn and grow as both a mentor and a mentee via Flourish and as a team that we continue to help people in the food industry connect and grow, so that they can flourish in their careers in the food industry. The industry is a fantastic place to work, but its often challenging and very fast-paced. Having a mentor or a mentee as part of your support network can only help to build skills, resilience and confidence, share successes and help learn from things that go less than perfectly.

Meet the Mentee – Caitlin Cannon: “I feel I always have someone looking out for me”

Having selected a fairly niche degree to study – Food Marketing and Business Economics – it’s probably no secret that I had my sights set on working in the food industry from a young age, this mainly stemmed from my love of Home Economics class at school. Since graduating in 2021, I had my own small baking business, and also worked for a start-up snack business in a Marketing and Sales role, which was an amazing experience and I learnt ALOT during such a short period of time.

I’m now based at the Agriculture, Horticulture and Development Board (AHDB) working as a Marketing Executive. I’ve absolutely loved learning more about agriculture (who knew there were so many types of sheep on this tiny island!) and have become really passionate about what we do to support UK farmers. My role in marketing is to promote British red meat and dairy to UK consumers, which has allowed me to get involved in all different aspects of marketing. It’s been a fantastic way to kickstart my career and I’ve just been a bit of a sponge soaking it all up over the past year.

Why Flourish in Food?

I first found out about Flourish in Food whilst still at university during covid. At that time I was keen to engage in any way I could to meet people in the industry, and I was happy to receive any professional advice on how to navigate the working world – so I signed up. I was thrilled to be matched with my mentor Claire who has tonnes of experience from her successful career and she genuinely helped me discover more about the industry, what it has to offer and also more about myself at a time when I was applying for my first graduate role.

When the team were looking for a Digital Lead, I jumped at the chance to be involved. Given my degree and past experience with websites and social media, I felt I would be a good fit. Having had such a good experience through the scheme, I was eager to get involved and be part of Flourish’s journey to reach more mentees and mentors, so they could also have an experience like mine.

Being part of a small team means we work collaboratively, and opinions are open and valued. This can be really empowering for a young professional, as it builds your confidence to speak up in meetings and not be afraid to get involved in new things. I’m now managing two social media assistants who have recently joined the team, and this is a fantastic opportunity for me to pass along some of my knowledge and use the extra hands to spread Flourish in Food even further in the industry.

How Mentoring Helped Me

I’ve had various queries throughout my mentorship but I have always felt so comfortable sharing these, and Claire has always given me sound advice. Being so early on in my career I recognise I will have a lot of ‘firsts’, constantly being faced with new ways of doing things, new people and new challenges, and it’s reassuring to have a sounding board to talk to who has perhaps been through some of these things first-hand and can relate. Although your mentor can’t make decisions for you (I wish), they can provide you with their own experiences and that to me is what mentoring is all about, someone who has more experience in a particular area sharing those experiences so you can benefit from them and make better-informed decisions yourself.

For me, Claire is really good at breaking down the issue and giving me some clarity on what to do next, which usually involves providing me with a link or two so I can obtain more guidance on the topic and make that informed decision.

How we help

In my opinion, schemes like Flourish in Food bring the industry together. Mentoring is a form of networking, and what we do at Flourish is bring people together, and help form potentially long-lasting relationships.

My personal experience has been just that, Claire is always a quick email away even nearly two years after being matched together. I feel I always have someone looking out for me, and my eyes have been opened to the breadth of the industry and all the people who are in it.

My Advice

My first response when someone asks me ‘Why did you sign up to Flourish in Food?’ is usually ‘Why not’ – not because I go around signing up to random things, but more because who wouldn’t want to benefit from everything that Flourish in Food has to offer. It’s just a fantastic scheme.

I’d always recommend a mentee (and mentor) to think about WHY they want to be part of the scheme, what do they want to get out of it? This is important because it’ll completely shape your experience – you can’t just turn up to a meeting and not know what to speak about, besides it being potentially awkward, it also won’t benefit your career in any way. Also, remember to be open and appreciate the wealth of experience the mentor can bring, you’d be surprised at how much you don’t know about the industry if you’re fairly new to it, so don’t be afraid for the conversation to go off on a tangent – sometimes these are the best conversations!

If you’re still unsure of signing up, take a look at some of Flourish in Food’s testimonials and see for yourself the experiences their mentees have had.

Are you interested in being a part of the Flourish in Food movement? Find out more about becoming a mentor or mentee HERE.

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