This article first appeared on the PROCESS EXPO blog.
Food Industry Executive spoke with members of the Food Processing Suppliers Association’s (FPSA) Young Professionals Group about the challenges and opportunities they see in the food industry today and in the future. This interview is with Cara Godack, the marketing manager at M&M Refrigeration, a company that designs, manufactures, builds, and services industrial refrigeration systems worldwide.
How did you get into the food industry?
CG: I’ve worked with M&M for about 2 years. At first, I was at an agency and M&M was my client. I’ve been full-time with them for almost a year now, doing marketing and business development.
I didn’t start out intending to go into the food industry. I have a degree in psychology and biology, with a master’s in public health. Somehow, my career path led me to M&M, which has been building refrigeration systems for the food industry since the company was founded about 50 years ago.
My personal introduction has been mainly through going to trade shows including PROCESS EXPO and talking with people to learn what’s important to clients in the space.
What do you like most about working in food?
Every company we work with is looking to make their company more environmentally sustainable, which is something that’s important to me and to us at M&M.
I’m not the typical person in the industry, so I appreciate that everyone I’ve met has been very supportive of a young woman in my role. When I have a question, people typically go out of their way to help me. I’ve worked in other industries where if you ask a question, people look at you as if you should already know the answer. In the food industry, and especially in FPSA, everyone is supportive, regardless of their role or company. It’s not a competitive place; rather, it’s a place where everyone wants to lift one another up.
Is there anything you’d like to change?
Companies are already implementing changes, like diversifying their work culture and keeping up with technology. It will take some time before we’re up to speed, but every company I’ve encountered has already taken steps to at least get started.
What has been your biggest challenge as a young professional woman in the food industry?
Being accepted as credible in my role. Everyone at my company understands the importance of helping me learn, but sometimes at a trade show booth, someone will want to talk to the older man standing next to me. Or a prospect or client will call and ask to speak to someone who’s been here for 20 years. It’s not as common as it used to be, but it still happens.
How do you overcome that challenge?
By educating myself so I know what I’m talking about and can make a good first impression. I make sure I can answer their questions without having to turn to a colleague. I especially want to be able to answer their first question. That’s critical for establishing my credibility.
How have you seen the industry evolve in the past few years?
A lot more women have a louder voice now because the industry is noticing the need for diverse leadership and understanding how important it is to have women in leadership roles.
I’ve also noticed that the industry is actively trying to attract my generation by changing company culture, for example, by allowing remote work. At the same time, companies are also working to ensure their core culture remains intact and relevant to the people who have been loyal to them for 20 years.
What do you think the industry can do to attract a younger and more diverse workforce?
Provide more education about how many different roles there are in the industry.
I had no idea until I started working with M&M how much went into it. When we design a system, we work with a lot of different people. For example, if we’re installing freezing for a spiral freezer, we work with the people who make the freezer, the people who make the valves, the people who make the temperature sensors, and so on.
We need to educate young people about the business development and the manufacturing that goes into the equipment that makes the food.
What advice would you give to a young professional just starting out in the food industry?
Find a mentor you can trust who sees your potential, and learn everything you possibly can from them. It never hurts to ask a question!
What value have you found in industry organizations and communities?
In FPSA, I’m involved in the Bakery Council, the Women’s Council, and the Young Professionals Group. All three are wonderful networking and educational resources. I find these and other industry groups give you the opportunity to hear other perspectives on common issues and also to network — not networking for the purpose of sales, but networking to connect with other people who you can learn from or teach.
The Young Professionals Group is particularly valuable because it’s a group of people in the same boat as I am. It gives us an opportunity to work together to solve our common challenges, like earning credibility. It also provides familiar faces at events like trade shows, so you have a built-in group of friends in a potentially intimidating environment.
On the whole, FPSA is doing a great job at building awareness of these groups and I’m looking forward to them growing. I can’t wait to have a larger network of both young professionals and women in the industry.
How do you think the food industry will change in the next 5 to 10 years?
I’m hoping that the older generation will take it to heart that the younger generation wants to come in and have an impact and move things forward. As long as that happens, we’ll be going in the right direction in terms of age and gender diversity.
I also think we’ll see a lot more emphasis on sustainability. It’s important to the younger generation and it will be valuable to companies across the board regardless of the products they make.