Meat our members: Mhairi Forbes

May 9, 2022 By

Mhairi Forbes is the Trading Area Technical Manager in Meat, Fish, Dairy, Eggs, Agriculture and Fisheries at Marks & Spencer. With a strong background in technical roles, we chatted to her to find out more about how she landed her current role and her career path so far.

Tell us more about how you got to where you are today. What was your career path and how did you end up in your current role?

As a daughter of a farmer and a cookery demonstrator, it was inevitable that I would end up working in the food industry.

After studying Consumer Product Management (Food) at university I completed a graduate training scheme with Grampian Country Food Group where I spent time in each of the divisions from farming to finished product. I quickly realised I had a passion for the processing of protein.

I loved understanding about all the variables which impact quality and working in a fast-paced industry with so much experience and talent to learn from. I spent 16 years in manufacturing predominantly working in chicken, pork, red meat and salmon before joining the deli and protein team in M&S.

Through my continued passion in learning about protein from farm to fork, building collaborative relationships and developing my management skills, I have progressed within the business and am now the Trading Area Technical Manager for Red Meat, Fish, Eggs, Dairy, Agriculture and Fisheries.

What do you enjoy most about your role and working in the meat industry?

In my current role I love seeing our products on the shelf in store, knowing how much hard work and passion has gone in to getting them there and how much they will be enjoyed by customers.

The meat industry is resilient and with the recent challenges of Covid-19, Brexit, labour and raw material shortages, this has been even more evident. Looking at our range I feel very proud of all the hard work of our farmers and our supply chain teams to ensure consumers continue to be delighted.

Tell us a little about a project you’ve been involved with in your career that you feel proud of, or passionate about.

Delivering a successful Christmas campaign for protein in 2020 whilst in the middle Covid-19 was one of my proudest achievements.

So much of the preparation had to be carried out remotely during the early part of the year and we had to develop alternative methods for a number of activities which would normally have been on site. Working collaboratively with our suppliers was key as well as being able to make quick and informed decisions when challenges arose, to make sure we could deliver the product to the right quality on time.

What challenges have you faced in the industry, if any? How did they impact you and how did you overcome them?

We know that typically the meat industry is male orientated, yet the challenges I faced were often from females who would overcompensate for this lack of diversity. I learned over time that working on these relationships to build trust and create a support network was more important and rewarding than competing with anyone.

What do you think we could do to encourage more gender diversity in the meat industry?

The meat industry can definitely do a better job of selling itself as an attractive career option to everyone. We need to educate children from an early age on the opportunities in the industry and this should be tailored to attract all genders.

I recently spoke to a teacher who taught food science and she was not aware of the roles available, which re-emphasised that we have a lot of work to do in educating the public.

We should also take learnings from other industries that have made progress, for example Engineering UK reported in 2021 that the percentage of women in their industry has increased by 25.7% since 2016.

What do you think the meat industry could do to engage more men in these conversations?

Engaging more men in gender diversity conversations does not need to be complicated. I am disappointed to say throughout my career I have often been in meetings where I’ve been the only female.

By simply highlighting this once to a male colleague, it caused him to reflect and drove a change in his behaviour and approach to future business activity.

What’s the best piece of career (or personal) advice you’ve been given?

The best piece of business advice I have been given is “Not everyone thinks the same way as me.” Taking a moment to see something from the other person’s point of view and realising that it takes many personalities and beliefs to achieve a common goal has really helped me to build strong working relationships and achieve many objectives.

What do you think the meat industry could do to ensure that we attract and retain top female (and male) talent?

Meat Business Women celebrates women at all stages of their careers which is a great platform that can be used to attract female talent into the industry. MBW also gives women the encouragement to build a strong support network which will help to retain top talent within our industry.

I joined MBW to grow my network as well as take advantage of the masterclass series, the range of which is diverse and I always leave having learned a new tool to support my development. I am really looking forward to meeting new people and growing my network even more at the conference in May!

Find out more about #SheLooksLikeMe here

Find out more about membership here

Mhairi Forbes, Trading Area Technical Manager, Meat, Fish, Dairy, Eggs, Agriculture and Fisheries at Marks & Spencer

Connecting incredible women in the meat industry is what we’re all about at Meat Business Women. If you’d like to connect with Mhairi on LinkedIn, click here.

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