Dreaming of becoming a newscaster growing up in Kenya to managing food safety for UK’s leading supermarket chain.
Describe your current role, key responsibilities and the most critical deliverables.
I am currently working as Technical Manager for the second largest supermarket chain in the UK, Sainsbury’s. I am in charge of food safety for a category of products. My most critical deliverables are working with stakeholders to ensure that products launched are safe, of expected quality and meet both legal requirements and brand standards.
What are some of the most important skill sets in achieving success in your role?
The most important skills set is food safety knowledge, good grasp of soft skills such as collaborative working, and critical analysis. Keeping my skills and knowledge up to date is also important as the food industry is always evolving, whether it is emerging risks, novel products, emerging technologies, etc.
How would you describe the journey to your current role? How did your childhood and growing up guided your choice for this career option?
I was previously working in administration, among other activities, but nothing closely related to my current career. I started working in the food industry back in 2009 when I got a job in a food factory as a QA technician. I liked what the job entailed and decided to pursue a career in the field. I later enrolled for an undergraduate degree in Food Science, then a Masters in Food Safety and Quality Management and have never looked back since. As a matter of fact, when I was growing up, my dream job was to be a newscaster having been influenced by Kenyan TV presenter Sophie Ikenye. I had also thought of becoming an air hostess/stewardess.
What are some of the quality, food safety and compliance certifications your company has achieved? How would you say these certifications have shaped up your company to achieve its goals?
My company is not a manufacturer so we don’t get certifications such as BRC, Global Gap, ISO, etc. but we do expect companies supplying us to have the relevant certifications, whether they are food safety certifications such as BRC, ethical standards or animal welfare standards.
How does your company ensure that food safety culture is inculcated within its sphere of influence? What are some of the challenges your team and company face in ensuring compliance throughout the business and the value chain?
We ensure that food safety culture is instilled throughout our business by communicating clearly our business strategy, priorities and objectives. Food safety is a significant pillar supporting our business to achieve its priorities. Because everyone understands the importance of food safety to the business strategy, we are all rowing in the same direction. Of course, there will be occasions when compliance will not be 100%. We then take actions to understand what are the drivers for noncompliance and then solve those issues. In order to create a food safety culture, food safety must be part of the business priorities.
What are some of the quality, food safety and compliance challenge your company faces on a regular basis? What are some of the processes you have put in place to ensure that raw materials, in-process and end products meet your requirements?
Though we strive for 100% compliance, sometimes things do go wrong. This tends to happen at the supply base, where there may be food safety issues leading to product recall. This can result from a contamination issue, allergen risk from mislabeling, among others. When this happens, we expect the supplier to conduct a root cause analysis and understand what went wrong and to communicate what will prevent the same thing from happening again. We work with suppliers who demonstrate that they have the systems in place to ensure food safety.
When I was growing up, my dream job was to be a newscaster having been influenced by Kenyan Tv presenter Sophie Ikenye.
Purity Wambui Hrisca – Technical Manager, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, UK
Tell us about your company and how it fits in with career goals. Briefly, what is the typical day like in your role and at your company?
I work for a company with a rich brand heritage of over 150 years! I chose to work for the company because its values and mine are aligned.
My day is usually spent either in meetings with stakeholders who are either cross functional teams or suppliers. On some days I may be inspecting samples for product approval, preparing product information, approving product information, visiting suppliers or visiting our stores. My day to day varies depending on what I am working on at that particular time.
What have been some of the previous roles before the current one? How important were those roles in shaping your current role? What have been the key turning points in your career?
My food industry career started in my 30s. Prior to my job in the food factory, I had done different jobs, mostly in administration but I had not worked in the food industry. It was not easy when I started studying for my undergraduate Food Science degree. I had been out of school for a couple of years and this field was completely new to me. I did overcome those challenges in the end and graduated with a very high grade. The lesson I learnt is we can achieve anything we set our minds to. Having an end goal in mind and committing, is the key to success.
I have 13 years food industry experience. Prior to working in the retail sector, I worked in the supply base. My career started off as a junior food safety/quality professional, working on the factory floor. I then progressed to management roles working with different product categories in the food industry. This diversity of knowledge has helped me in my career. Having worked in production environment, I understand the challenges faced my manufacturers. I apply some of the knowledge gained in my previous roles in my decision making and also to support stakeholders.
What makes your role interesting? What do you enjoy most about your role? What has been the role of mentors and family in the achievement of your professional goals?
The diversity of the day-to-day activities, the responsibility of ensuring that the customer gets safe food, the colleagues I work with, the company culture, what we stand for as a company. Plus, the satisfaction of landing a project successfully. All these factors make the role enjoyable and interesting.
What challenges do you face in delivering on your current role and how do you overcome them?
Challenges include being extremely busy at times. This is dependent on what is happening at a certain period of time. I overcome this with prioritizing and focusing on what adds value.
How do you wind down after a hard day at work? What are your personal hobbies? How do these hobbies contribute to your personal and professional development?
After a hard day at work, I like working on my personal blog where I write about food, sustainable living and wellness (www.albinna.com). Writing blogs contributes to my personal and professional development through acquiring skills such as SEO, knowledge gained when I am researching on my articles, which I also apply.
If the weather is nice, I take a walk in the park – I find it relaxing and I am also able to think clearly whilst in an open space.
How can young people who may aspire to a career choice like yours plan their journey? What advice would you give them to succeed in their careers and life?
The key is to know what you want and then set goals to achieve these goals. The going may get tough at times, but stay focused and with your eyes on the end goal. Be ready to work hard in order to achieve your goals. Develop soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, resilience and persistence, collaboration, etc.
What would you want to accomplish in your career before you step away from the industry? What else would you want to do in the future?
To be honest, I haven’t thought of stepping away from the industry. I think I will always be a foodie at heart whether I am in employment or not. I would like to see more people understanding the role of food on our health and the health of the planet.
Food plays an important role on how our health fares: what you eat plays a key role in chronic disease. Food may also impact how well you age as well as your mental health. This is just scratching the surface and many people do not know this. There is the food safety element of it and all the other challenges related to food that the world is facing today. This is one of reasons why I blog – to share knowledge.