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Joel Kirstein

Who are Danone?

Danone are one of the world’s largest Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies. They operate globally with over 80,000 employees and annual revenues of almost $15 billion. Our goal is to bring health through food to as many people as possible.

Landing on my feet

After graduating from the University of Manchester with a degree in Economic and Social History in 2008 I wasn’t entirely sure what career path I wanted to take.

The experiences I’d had running a society at University made me want a job where relationship building was central, the results I achieved were tangible and there was always something new to be discovered.

Lots of industries and roles fitted the bill so I took the approach of applying for companies primarily based on their attitude and culture rather than looking for a specific role, but FMCG stood out as an industry due to its fast paced nature.

This approach certainly paid off. I applied to Danone as their values of “Openness, Humanism, Enthusiasm and Proximity” resonated strongly with me and their determination to become the number one manufacturer in their category demonstrated their ambition.

I joined as a Territory Manager looking after a region of supermarkets in South London. It was clear the culture was as I’d expected and I had landed on my feet.

The exposure I quickly gained to the wider business sparked my interest in Category Management and when a role became available I applied. I was promoted to Category Executive just eight months after joining the company.

Market and shopper understanding

My current role as Category Executive is client facing, supporting one of our senior category managers. We help some of the UK’s largest retailers to fully understand the category in which we operate.

Work consists of analysing the latest sales and loyalty data for our own and competitor brands, attending focus groups to gain fresh shopper insights and a variety of reporting.

Providing analysis helps aid our company to make important business decisions as well as help our retailers’ understanding of sales, to help them keep constantly improving their sales.

Analysing data for branding insights

There’s a lot of data out there both qualitative and quantitative and at first it can sometimes be quite daunting trying to understand it all.

On its own, data doesn’t necessarily “mean” anything. Being given the responsibility to pull it all together from various sources and analyse and turn it into simple, actionable insights is really rewarding – especially as my insights will directly influence either our own or retailer strategies.

Walking around your local grocery store and being able to show your friends what your work has led to is really rewarding, especially knowing that those changes will have been implemented across the UK.

These insights are central to both our sales and marketing strategies at Danone. As a result, I often get a lot of internal requests that I have to juggle alongside retailer requests. The workload can often be the most stressful part of the role, but with good prioritisation skills and the support of the team around me this can always be overcome.

My next career step

In the near future, I’d like to gain autonomy on my own accounts as a Category Manager. The role gives you a great knowledge of how the FMCG industry works as you need to understand and consider the strategies of marketing, sales and the retailer whilst always having the needs of the shopper in mind when making recommendations.

Category management is giving me a great grounding for my future career and with a bit of ambition who knows where I’ll be in ten years time!

Skills required to get into FMCG

For those looking to get into the industry, having a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses is a crucial first step. Be honest with yourself and think where those skills would best be suited. Having a good knowledge of the industry as a whole will always be beneficial so research and try to fully understand the industry and the role you want to apply by looking at the websites of manufacturers, retailers and industry press such as The Grocer.

Spending some time in a supermarket having a think about why certain products sit together, which products are often on promotion and how one supermarket differs from another will also aid your understanding.

Experience of Assessment Centres

Every company is slightly different, so make sure you try to find out as best as possible what kind of things you’ll be doing on the day – competency based interviews, case studies and group exercises are often popular choices.

Getting some practice is important, role playing the kind of things you’ll be doing with friends beforehand is a great way to prepare. Thinking about the kind of questions you might be asked will also help and should be based upon your research around the company’s values, its competitors and how you think you’d fit in.

Always remember the interviewers aren’t there to catch you out. They don’t just want to know if you could do the job, they want to make sure you’d fit in to the culture of the company so the best piece of advice I could give is to be yourself and be honest.

Getting a work/life balance

Employees’ having a work/life balance is very important at Danone. There are always the odd few occasions when I may have to work late to meet an important deadline but the company understands that its employees have a life outside of work.

Just one of the initiatives in place to ensure this is summer working hours where we’re able to leave earlier on a Friday afternoon to make the most of the long summer evenings.

How to tackle the challenges

No role is without its challenges. The best piece of advice I can give is not to expect to run before you can walk. Nobody is perfect so listen and learn from those around you, don’t be afraid to ask questions and actively seek feedback – most importantly, act on it!

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