What does your role include?
I run Europe’s (or maybe the world’s!) only Fair Trade nut company – a team of eight with a turnover of over £3.5m.
We import Fairtrade certified nuts from small-scale producer co-operatives in the developing world and supply them to the world’s most demanding customers.
We are very proud of our range of Liberation snack nuts and peanut butter – good for the producer, the consumer and easy on the environment.
My role is challenging, fun and varied; it ranges from negotiating with Tesco, to visiting producers from Bolivia to Malawi to organising National Nut Day every October.
What is it the company does?
Liberation Foods was founded in 2007 by co-operatives of small-scale nut producers from Bolivia, El Salvador, India, Malawi and Nicaragua, along with Twin; the Fair Trade charity that also set up Cafédirect and Divine Chocolate.
Our vision is ‘a world in which smallholder famers can enjoy secure, sustainable livelihoods and plan for the future’ and our mission is to ‘bring nut producers and consumers together so that everyone gets a better deal’.
We are a Community Interest Company; the community that we exist to benefit is the nut producer co-ops who own 44% of the company and supply our nuts. Liberation snack nuts are sold in Waitrose, on Easy Jet flights and in small independent shops. We also supply Tesco and Sainsbury branded Fairtrade nuts.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I’ve always been rather obsessed by food so a career in the food industry has strong appeal and I graduated in Food Science and Nutrition.
Much as I (and my sweet tooth) loved my first job as technologist in the desserts department at Marks and Spencer HQ, I had a deep-rooted desire to make some contribution to redressing the awful imbalance in power and wealth between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries.
My first chance to do this came in a two year stint as a VSO volunteer working with small-scale food producers in Belize – I still remember the leaving poem written by my Category Manager when I resigned from M&S; they all thought I was crazy! But I think that you have to be a bit crazy if you want to bring about change.
So, having worked at Tesco HQ for four years on my return from Belize, I shocked colleagues again by resigning to join Twin and so satisfy my ambition to work in the Fair Trade sector – for me the perfect combination of business and international development.
I was one of the small team at Twin who launched Liberation Foods and I progressed to the MD position in 2010. With small-scale producer co-ops as my shareholders, I feel I am doing my bit to redress the balance.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
My background in food science and technology has been my saving grace on many an occasion as ensuring that the food safety and quality of nuts meets the suitably exacting standards of the UK market is no mean feat.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Yoga, swimming, running and hanging out and chewing the fat with my four year old son and his friends all do the trick.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Well my favourite game was pretending to be a waiter in a restaurant so I guess I always knew I wanted to provide food to people in some way shape or form.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?
I’m a doer rather than a talker so I get very impatient in long, drawn out meetings or ‘talking shops’ as I see them. I guess I try to bring discussions to conclusions that involve practical actions whilst also working on my powers of patience!
Where do you see the company in five years time?
I would love to see us with a turnover of £10m, having converted more UK consumers to the virtues of healthy, environmentally friendly Fair Trade nut consumption & sustained & empowered nut-producing communities and families in Bolivia, El Salvador, India, Malawi and Nicaragua in the process.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Make the most of any learning opportunities that come your way. I have always enjoyed travelling with and talking with colleagues, especially those in more senior positions to me. I’ve emulated qualities that I admire in others to develop my own leadership style and learned from mistakes and failings that I’ve observed in myself and others.