New Zealand’s biggest companies and brands came together yesterday at the Food and Grocery Industry Jobs Expo, organised by NZ Food & Grocery Council and University of Auckland to showcase a broad range of career options opening up in the industry. Key guests included the likes of Fonterra, Coca-Cola, Whittakers, Heinz Wattie’s, Frucor, Unilever, Tegel, Lion, Mondelez and Bluebird. Both major supermarket chains were also present.

The event gave students an exciting opportunity to talk with company representatives and get in touch with companies that are running graduate programmes or simply looking for talent to train. "I definitely think that job opportunities in the FMCG industry are increasing," said Kelly Smith, managing director of Bizadvisor and member of FGC. "Our industry is not seen as sexy and attractive as some other industries. We're competing with telcos, finance companies, IT and agencies more than we have in the past because we haven't done a great job at promoting ourselves." The number of roles out there is rising, she emphasised, due to the growth enjoyed by the sector with more small suppliers joining the market.

The students' enthusiasm at the expo was a strong sign that the message had been received.
"The aim of this event is to remind them about what a great career the food and grocery industry can provide them, getting to work with great people and brands that people love," Katherine Rich, chief executive of FGC, told SupermarketNews. "We've just been overwhelmed with the interest, and it has been marvellous to hear the questions coming from students. It's the first time the Food & Grocery Council has been active in this, so I do really pay tribute to the work of Kelly Smith and the team, including Foodstuffs, Countdown and local recruiters. The number of stands has been sold out today, and most of the largest grocery firms are here."

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During two separate 30-minute presentations, retailer and supplier speakers shared their inspiring stories, standing as a testament to all the opportunities the industry has to offer. James Kane, NZ country manager of Mondelez, started having an interest in FMCG while working as a checkout operator in a supermarket. "At the time, I had no expectations," Kane said. Having studied marketing in university certainly came in useful when he joined Mondelez seventeen years ago. According to Kane, the company is realising how important is to retain talent and actively promotes 5,000 people every year.

Years before owning Pak'nSave Albany, Paul Blackwell simply had an after-school job in retail, then managed to climb up the ladder. "This industry is a special industry," he said. "It's based on hard work. It's not glamorous, but I'm a testament that even those starting off from the bottom can succeed, and that is exciting. We're making big strides to deliver our customers what they need."
Then came the turn of Geraldine Mead, marketing coordinator of Mars NZ, who promoted Mars' 3-year graduate programme. "You get a mentor, get exposure, and you get to work with our brands. It's a fantastic industry, give it a go," she told students in the audience.
Brendon Lawry, merchandising manager of Foodstuffs North Island, began working in FMCG 18 years ago and stressed the importance of 'learning by doing'.

For those wishing to take their skills further, Foodstuffs' graduate programme might be a good option. A recent graduate of Victoria University who is now coordinating the programme, Melissa Coulam reminded that applications will close next week, on June 1st. "You'll never be just a number; opportunities are diverse. It's a really good place to start now, regardless of what industry you want to work in," she said.