Next up on our MorePeople's 5 Questions is Paul Milner!
Paul has an impressive career history, working as a consultant, director and NED he has helped transform a range of impressive businesses within our industries, including Geest/Bakkavor, A.H. Worth and T.H. Clements to name just a few. And in more recent years, being Divisional MD of Samworth Brothers Cornwall Bakeries and then creating their plant-based business - Revolution Kitchen. Paul is transitioning his career path into Board Advisory and NED roles and currently works with an emerging Tempeh brand ‘Plant Power’, a London-based bakery business and is exploring options to join another couple of Boards as well as becoming a Trustee of an international charity.
What’s the single biggest challenge facing our industry today?
"’Sustainability’ in all its guises
Financial sustainability: in the face of the current inflationary economic climate, we need to re-establish the real cost/value of the whole food chain so that everyone involved who is efficient enough, can make a sustainable return - enough to reinvest in the future as well as making a living now.
Climate change impacts: a huge challenge that is obviously global in its nature - with food production having a significant role in this: whether through pressures on the natural environment; the impacts of global animal agriculture; or - increasingly - water usage, water shortages, and flash flooding.
Environmental sustainability: from competing (and often conflicting) priorities of land use; the reliance on fertilisers and pesticides to manage productivity and soil health; the impact of animal agriculture as our prime source of protein; or the use of plastics and recyclability of packaging, food - something everyone consumers every day -the food industry has a crucial role to play in being part of the answer rather than the problem.
All of these challenges (along with energy, food security, labour availability and skills, etc, etc) need clear, joined-up strategic thinking and leadership - over timescales that are much longer than parliamentary terms. Unfortunately, successive governments seem to have failed to provide the longer term, multi-party leadership in so many of these crucial areas. Just look at the stop-start procrastination around Henry Dimbleby's National Food Strategy work, which is only just beginning to get some focus on how it might actually be shaped into some form of meaningful strategy, nearly four years after he was commissioned to lead his review! I’ll get down off my soap box now!"
What do you think the next big product / piece of tech will be?
"I’m not sure that my answer is necessarily short-term in its delivery, but from my experiences working in plant-based meat alternatives, I believe the longer-term solution to feeding the world’s growing population ultimately lies in cell cultured ‘animal free’ meat production. There’s some really interesting innovations being worked on in this area, but unfortunately its other countries (notably the US, Israel and Singapore) who are really embracing these technological break-throughs. Much of the great pioneering lab work being carried out in Europe (particularly in the UK and Holland) is being frustrated in their scale-up efforts by a very (overly?) cautious legislative approach. The UK and the rest of Europe are in real danger of losing out to other parts of the world in developing these parts of ’next gen' food solutions - with the associated outflow of supporting investment and a brain drain of our best researchers. Oh dear, I appear to be back on that soap box!"
What do you like most about our industry?
"I love the creativity and ingenuity that is demonstrated year after year to get great food onto the nation’s plates every day. Having worked across so many different aspects of the whole food supply chain, I have real pride in what we do: from agricultural variety developments and pioneering growing/harvesting technologies; through new ways to process produce into innovative ingredients and finished products; the use of creative packaging solutions that better protect what we eat and the planet we live on; to all of the logistics and distribution solutions that move millions of tonnes of food every day to where it is needed, when it is needed, and working with world-class retail partners. And all this generally goes on completely unseen and totally taken for granted by the vast majority of the population!"
What was your first ever job in our industry?
"Apart from working in a Co-op superstore during my senior school years, I first started on a Management Trainee program in a large-scale meat processor that was, at the time. owned by Sainsbury’s. I spent four years working across all departments of the business (I’ve still got scars on my fingers from my time in the butchery!) in between being sponsored through university by the company. This was a great introduction to the industry and gave me an amazing insight into all the elements that make up a food business.
After graduating in Business Studies and Marketing, I went into Production Management before switching to a Commercial career path and eventually (via Capital Projects management) moving into wider business management and ultimately MD roles with a number of different businesses."
What piece of advice would you like to give to your 21-year-old self?
"A very timely question as my youngest ‘child’ turns 21 this week!
For me it’s: ‘Be interested and interesting’ and Network, Network, Network! - grab every chance to connect with people (upwards, downwards, sideways) show an interest and support them whenever you can - it’s a small industry and you never know where you, or others, will end up!"