Beth Stirling-Jones, central technical team leader, gives us the low down on her role and her priorities. Beth and her team manage regulatory compliance at smoothie and juice brand innocent
Q: How did you get into the food industry and what led you to this role?
A: I loved food and science and studied food technology at Reading, which was a fantastic course. While there I did a placement at United Biscuits, and spent that year in factories, on the technical and research side of things. Then, when I graduated I went on to do the United Biscuits graduate scheme, and was there for about 5 years. Over that time I learned all about technical aspects of manufacturing and really enjoyed the challenge of being a new technologist, working in the United Biscuits factories.
I knew innocent as a brand and I loved the product. I always thought I would like to work there, but there were never any technical jobs advertised. Then, one day I saw one advertised on the innocent website and I was so excited: I applied, of course, and I got it.
It was at the very early stages of innocent setting up a technical team, so I was one of the first technical specialists in the company. Moving from a factory environment into a branded product business was quite a change.
In the early days innocent hadn’t needed an in house technical team as their factories generally managed the technical aspects, but as the supply chain became more complex and the customer demand for the product grew, it had become necessary to bring the safety, quality and legality aspects of technical in house.
I started as a technologist looking after the safety and legality of smoothies for 2 or 3 years, then became team leader and looked after safety, quality and legality of finished product for the business as a whole. I have now been at innocent for nearly ten years.
Q: Can you explain what you and your team do?
A: In between taking two stints of maternity leave I created a new technical sub team that specialises in regulatory compliance for all of innocent (with the wider technical team members focusing on product safety and quality.)
The regulatory compliance sub team is part of central technical team – which I now run.
As the product range grew, our customer base expanded across Europe and the environment became increasingly regulated, the need for a Regulatory Compliance Team at innocent became evident. We needed more time and resource to invest in ensuring our product claims and messaging were legal, as well as advising marketing and innovation on what we can and can’t say about our products.
The people we work with most closely in Regulatory Compliance are the creative team, the innovation team and brand and marketing.
We don’t have any lawyers in house as such, though we take legal advice externally. It is our job to interpret food law and apply it to our products. It’s essential to interpret food law in the context of our values, our brand, and our innovation – that’s basically what we’re paid do: to enable and recommend and avoid saying no where possible
Q: Can you tell me more about innocent as a brand and as a place to work?
A: The innocent values are written on the wall, we talk about them in people’s annual reviews and we stick by them in everything we do, including our recruitment.
They are: being natural, commercial, entrepreneurial, generous and responsible.
And those values resonate with me personally too.
The external view can sometimes be that we are very laid back – sort of hip and fun, silly even. But while we don’t necessary take ourselves seriously we take our work very seriously.
The standards here are super high and the pace is very fast. It’s really inspiring. I’ve been with innocent for 10 years and it’s the people and the values that have kept me here.
We’re now owned by Coca Cola and I’ve been through that transition, which is a very inspiring success story as far as I’m concerned. They have allowed us to stick with our values and make our own decisions but we have certainly benefited from their high standards and professionalism. And I think that is particularly true working in technical.
You can learn so much from a big successful business, and they have learnt from us too: I would say especially around doing things quickly, and how to be agile and dynamic.
We give 10 % of our profit to charities and it is rewarding to see the hard work we put in going to great causes, as well as driving incredible initiatives in this sector
Q: What are the challenges you face in your role, both personally and as a business at the moment?
A: One challenge is simply about keeping up with the pace of change in the market – getting great healthy, tasty products to market for our consumers.
The further challenge comes in how we balance the marketing ambition and the messages with what we are able to say about our products from a legal perspective.
My goal is to ensure that we don’t mislead the consumer and that we comply with food law. But that fits well with our values of being responsible and natural anyway, so that makes it easier.
The pace of change is so fast, and we always want to be finding creative ways to do things – working closely with the marketing team. We try to be enablers rather than the people who say no.
What makes a difference is when we try to guide in the right direction from the beginning, and that is where having good cross functional relationships helps a lot.
Another challenge for me is a personal one to do with balancing being a mum and working part time. Innocent is very supportive of part time and flexible working, as long as it’s right for the business and right for the role. I’m incredibly grateful for the flexibility.
Q: What do you look for when recruiting to your team?
A: Values are front of mind and considered carefully when we recruit. There will always be risks when you take on new people, but we need to mitigate those.
The recruitment processes is long, so we’re able to make sure we recruit people who have the right values in the first place. One thing we do is to always involve future colleagues of the person.
From the technical department’s perspective recruitment is hard as we need people who can build relationships and be natural and responsible and commercial. Basically, we need talking technical people!
People who do well in technical are the ones who can create relationships and respect in the business – not just saying no and talking about rules and regulations. The pressure on technical people is high as you have to meet everyone’s demands as well as putting food safety and legality first.
Q: What are the upsides and the downsides of the role?
A: The best bit is working with such an inspiring, capable and diverse set of people at innocent, and having great interaction with marketing, creative and innovation – teams you would not always have contact with as a technologist. Working in the regulatory area allows you that.
The downside is probably dealing with the complex nuances of regulations across all the different European regions.
Q: What lessons have you learned so far in your career?
A: I have a few:
- The value of treating people as you’d want to be treated yourself
- Keeping things in perspective. Work can be stressful, so we need to remember that ultimately it is just smoothies and juice
- The importance of leaving things better than you found them. If something isn’t working, or isn’t making you happy, then try to change it
- Sticking to your personal values at work – if something doesn’t feel right, then speak out and talk about it
Q: What advice would you give someone interested in working in your field/applying for a job?
You have to be really passionate about the brand, and you need to be loyal. If you are both those things then, even during tough and busy times you’ll still keep going.
Another piece of advice I’d give is to remember that in the food industry there are so many options and that sometimes, what seems like a sideways move can be a good thing. Don’t worry about always going upwards as you may find you can explore a new area which will open up a new direction and opportunity.
Q: What is your favourite innocent drink?
A: The new perfectly pink smoothie – it’s bright pink from beetroot; has both fruit and veg in it, in and it’s absolutely delicious.
And coconut water is super refreshing for a hot summer day.
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