Image: Meaghan Dodd in Shanghai – market research with five-star chefs on how they would cook Hoki (Macruronus novaezelandiae).

Winning the Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community Scholarship in 2009 was a critical point in my career pathway and provided amazing career opportunities to which I am to this day, very grateful. It took me on a journey around the world exploring a career in food manufacturing and what it takes to embed sustainable solutions in a food business, no matter its size.

I grew up in North West Tasmania and during my university years, moving to the ‘mainland’ had not been a consideration for myself, nor was living overseas a prospect I could fathom.

Whilst studying a Master of Applied Science (Living Marine Resources), Sydney Fish Market opened an opportunity for a summer student placement. I was thrilled to be accepted and would support seafood industry leader, Mark Boulter on the Market Pride project.

Packing my car for the road trip I recall thinking to myself, ‘I can do Sydney for three months’. Little did I realise this would be the beginning of a global career in the food industry.

 

Image: Exploring Billingsgate Markets in London during the WISC 2009 Scholarship trip (2010)

 

Jump forward to a little less than two years later, after winning the WINSC 2009 scholarship (now known as WISA – Women in Seafood Australasia), I was off to the UK to attend the 9th Annual Value Added Seafood Conference 2010 in London to observe as many seafood businesses that I could possibly squeeze into the trip.

After an exciting and valuable visit to London, I was on my journey back to Australia when I received a call from a global food company with a new opportunity. As I boarded the second leg of the long-haul flight, I answered the call from Tesco who were offering me a Seafood Technologist role, and if I was interested.

I landed back in Tasmania and contemplated the opportunity to return to the UK to work for the third largest retailer in the world – without a doubt, I took the role. With my ancestry visa in place (thanks Grandpa!) I left for the UK.

My work with Tesco began in 2011 as the Technologist for Wild Fish, Bread Fish, Fish Cakes & Sustainability for both prepacked food and fish counters. It is was an eye-opening role, although I thoroughly enjoyed working with various seafood suppliers. Whilst in this position, I successfully created a Quality Assurance fish depot manual, achieved MSC chain of custody for 550+ fish counters, assisted with the histamine and seafood sourcing policy and ensured the responsible fishing scheme (RFS) formed the basis for our catch suppliers.

I would say the traditional local products of herring milt, jellied eels and roll mops were my least favourite items especially whilst completing sensory assessment on-site at the crack of dawn.  I also quickly learned that it was best to avoid being in the office on Fridays – or risk being encumbered with any product recalls, which always seemed to be a Friday afternoon occurrence.

 

Image: Peterhead Fish Market, UK

 

Tesco was a great experience, but I soon learned my interests and strengths were with the supply base. I moved companies into a Site QA Manger role at Young’s Seafood (Humberstone Rd) – the largest seafood manufacturer in the UK. The site was expansive and challenging and covered products from gluten free fish fingers, coated/battered fish to ready-to-eat mussels and prawn cocktails. My time was spent changing the culture of the QA team and upskilling staff to handle competently audits without me being present in person.

Whilst at Young’s, it was my CSR Director who discovered horse meat in the beef lasagne with our parent company Findus. I was called to meet with him a few days later and was asked whether we had any issues with fish speciation and what practices were in place. At that stage we had full sampling schedule of raw material testing and little else. I had three days to provide a speciation tool to ensure we could prove (our diligence) there were indeed no issues.

With little time to develop such a tool, I took our allergen risk assessment methodology (something our site teams were already use to) and changed the allergen names to the fish specie names, to complete a full risk assessment leading the site team. This process was then rolled out to other Young’s sites across the UK. It was a successful program and let’s just say, what we created looks a lot similar to what Woolworths now use as their allergen risk assessment with their UK technical migration to Australia.

 

Image: Tesco visit to a Scottish salmon farm

 

In January of 2014, I made a surprise trip home for my mother’s birthday. I remember how much I loved the warmth of the summer’s sun and decided I couldn’t do the UK weather anymore. The first day back at work, I handed in my notice and a couple of days later was requested to meet with the CSR Director. I was told they were sorry to see me leave and could anything be done to change my mind? Unfortunately, changing the weather wasn’t an option but it was a great compliment. They offered me a three-month contract at their Fraserburgh Scottish site before I moved on from Young’s and I decided to take the offer – it would be another great opportunity and adventure before heading back to the southern hemisphere. I set off to far north Scotland to begin work where it was considered a hot day if the temperature reached double digits. The work consisted of problem solving and to create lean processes at a site that is high care / high risk  with ready-to-eat products including pates, smoked salmon and the traditional Scottish roll mops.

As I reflect on my UK experience, there were many positives including excellent growth opportunities and international contacts, and might I also add, easy holiday travel around Europe!

 

Image: Working in NZ with Sealord Group – out on the day fishing boat, landing fresh Hoki (Macruronus novaezelandiae)

 

I skipped Australia and moved straight to New Zealand to commence a new role in Nelson, at the northern end of the South Island, at Sealord Group Ltd. I would be the Product and Process Project Manager for the fishing side of the business (the retail side of the business had their own new product development team).  This was a move that would find me closer to home without being in Australia and was another country to explore.

The highlights were a great mentor in my Manager – Mark De Latour, trialling and implementing new skin packaging and other packaging for export whilst reducing product cost, creating and implementing a new Stage Gate process for new and/or improved products, participating in the development of a new export brand for China and also become a key team member of market research and focus group testing of Hoki in China. We tested our developed brand specific for China, watched chefs use a fish they hadn’t previously seen, with consumer groups then tasting the products made by the chefs from our Hoki. It was interesting to see a Chinese chef with a meat clever fillet Hoki from the backbone towards it stomach. Let’s just say, Hoki is quite delicate and filleting against the muscle block creates a ‘fluffy’ fish fillet look.

The learning was invaluable, and the insights gained from observing both the chefs and consumers who understood Hoki better than our developed markets. For example, the consumers that have never seen or tasted Hoki, knew they would not be able to buy this fish live. Interestingly, the feedback was that Hoki have large eyes and therefore are found at great depths of the ocean, that they would not survive when brought to the surface.

New Zealand as beautiful and close to home as it was, it wasn’t home. Before leaving my role at Sealord Group to move back to Australia, I took some time to consider whether I still wanted to work in seafood or if I should expand my horizons. I was at a crossroad.

I had gained much experience up to now thanks to my first fulltime job at Marinova, understanding fish farming at Tassal Group Ltd, Sydney Fish Market summer placement, the WINSC scholarship and mentoring from Mark Boulter (SFM) and Mark De Lautour (Sealord). I had opportunities and experiences which had brought me to where I was now, and I had to look forward to where the next journey would lead.

I moved back to Australia in 2015 and for the next two and a half years tried other food manufacturing areas including smallgoods, fruit and vegetables, dairy, hospitality start-ups and consultancy – everything from supporting a food and entertainment start-up to creating all their policies, procedures and hiring staff, to a $20 million optimisation project moving products between sites and states. One key achievement was saving a dairy manufacturer $2-4 million in waste reduction, process improvements and effective raw material optimisation.

During this time, I started my MBA with the plan that in the next 5-10 years I would start my own consultancy business.

In March 2018, I was working for a UK consultancy’s Australian division when I received the call that they no longer wanted their own employees and I was given notice. It was this day that determined the start of my own consultancy business (some years earlier than I had planned). A couple of phone calls later, Intuitive Food Solutions was registered.

Intuitive Food Solutions began to support food businesses specialising in seafood and food manufacturing, retail and industries bodies. The business has evolved to support food businesses to save time and meet budget KPIs by creating process efficiencies and problem-solving value chain opportunities, for example maximising product resources, improving product quality and streamlining processes.

I was slowly moving back to my roots in seafood and I loved every minute of it. Seafood brings challenges every day and no two days are the same. It’s why I find working in this industry so satisfying – plus, nothing beats working near the water as the sun rises!

Fast forward to today, the beginning of 2020, and I’m so proud of the work we do at Intuitive Food Solutions. Now based in Brisbane, we work with the private sector and industry leaders in Australia and globally to help sustain a thriving food future.

We’re becoming recognised for our out-of-the-box approach to delivering real business solutions that solve complex challenges unique to the seafood and food industry.

Some of our key achievements have included:

  • Supporting the Aquatic Animal Welfare review.
  • Being mentored in the role for Project Manager for Fish Names and the newest standard Aquatic Plants.
  • Being part of a working group with Honey and Fox consultancy and Curtin University working with the Great Australian Bight Fishing Industry Association on project managing and providing quality and training inputs for creating new markets for five underutilised and undervalued fish species.
  • Completing my MBA and Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.
  • Developing partnerships with Registered Training Organisation, Stratus Training to deliver nationally recognised training in food training.
  • Becoming an active member and Director of a number of industry associations.

If you’re interested in learning more about our experience and how we can support your food business to grow, schedule a free confidential conversation with us.