A Day In The Life Of … A Food Consultant
Name: Natalie Kelsey
Job Title: Self-employed Food Consultant
What is your career background?
Growing up I was always curious about all things food related and I studied Home Economics & Business Studies at A’Level.
I went on to study BSc (hons) Food & Consumer Studies at Sheffield Hallam University, undertaking a placement at the ‘Cordon Vert’ Cookery School, prepping and planning vegetarian cookery school courses.
When I left University, I took my first job as a Product Development Technologist at Buckingham Foods in Milton Keynes.
I developed sandwiches and salads for Sainsbury’s. I LOVED being in a food factory, directly influencing the nations lunchtime habits and developing new concepts and combinations every day. I got to present them to our customer, and then transfer those recipes to the factory. It was here that I entered the ‘Sandwich Designer of the Year’ awards and was a runner up in the finals at The Sammies!
After almost two years in manufacturing, I crossed over to the ‘retailer’ side to work for Sainsbury’s as a Product Developer.
I spent four years at Sainsbury’s developing 1000’s of products for them, ranging from soup, sauces, crisps & snacks, soft Drinks, to frozen fish & freefrom ranges.
In 2010, I joined Waitrose in the same role. I was responsible for the launch of many products including the LoveLife brand, WR1 Ready meals, Chilled Soup, Duchy Originals from Waitrose Confectionery & Easy to cook ranges.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I adored my job working at Waitrose, it was my passion, as well as my profession. It was a fantastic company to work for, with an equally fantastic team of fellow foodies, but with a North Yorkshire military positing, it made my commute impossible.
There were many possibilities to work for another large food retailer, but I had always thought that one day I would start up as a freelance food consultant. I am passionate about local, independent food and drink brands and the North Yorkshire food scene is arguably the best in the country for inspiring creativity so it provided the perfect opportunity.
So in September 2017, I started The Curious Foodie Consultancy. It provides product development expertise & leadership to food and drink businesses looking to grow their brand. With 15 years of Manufacturer and Retail experience I see product development from both sides.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
Two days are ever the same!
From Copenhagen food research trips looking at the emerging food trends in Scandinavia to:
- Benchmarking & tasting competitor ranges
- Tasting every burger on the market – from McDonalds, to Hawksmoor and M&S to Aldi in the quest to find a winning formula/recipe.
- Food inspiration trips/trawls to gain inspiration for new ranges and seasonal changes/merchandising, we recently hosted a Christmas trip to York.
- Working with clients on ways of working, streamlining and making more efficient their New Product Development process
- Attending first production trials in factories to ensure products scale up from concept to trial size batches.
- Writing design briefs for the re-design or a new food range to brief into a design agency
- Signing off artwork and copy for new packaging
- Project management
- Writing new client proposals and introductions.
- Attending trends in food events to keep abreast of the market.
- Attending customer focus groups to understand what ‘quality’ means to them
- Restaurant visits to understand food and cuisine trends in food service – Mainstream to Michelin Star
What are the positive and negative aspects of your job from a professional point of view?
The waist line! ha ha! The job makes dieting a real challenge…but on a serious note.
The frequency of move takes its toll on creating solid networking connections, especially when business proposals are written and enquiries may not come in for a while
Working freelance allows me to stay in control, to press the pause button (within reason) when I need to. I take most of the school holidays off, no more trying to stretch that holiday allowance and work out who is going to have the children.
I also get to stay close to the detail and provide a personal service to my clients which I LOVE.
As a Military spouse, what has been your biggest obstacle when trying to balance work/ kids/ your spouses military commitments?
Natalie and her family
Juggling balls and spinning the plates and manipulating the diary to accommodate the last minute non-negotiable military commitments is particularly tricky, whilst not letting clients down and still being there for your children to ensure their well being does not suffer – sound familiar?!
The seamless switching between different hats ‘supportive military wife hat,’ ‘client focussed business woman hat,’ and ‘Mum of two hat’ can also be quite confusing and not particularly efficient.
What has been your proudest moment in business … so far?
BBC Annual Christmas Good Food Taste Awards 2018
After 6 months of developing the Christmas meat offer for Waitrose, Waitrose won the ‘Best Ham’ category – Juniper Smoked Spiral Crackling Gammon, developed by The Curious Foodie.
Olive Magazine Christmas Supermarket awards 2018
Developed by myself for Waitrose & Partners Christmas meat range 2018.
Sweet cured, tamarind & pomegranate easy carve gammon won GOLD in the Best Ham category https://www.olivemagazine.com/guides/olive-christmas-supermarket-awards-2018/
The moment when my website launched and my business became real was a huge accomplishment, but my first testimonial from my very first Curious Foodie client was a very proud moment:
‘Natalie is a very accomplished highly professional “foodie” She has a a great translation of consumer trends and requirements into fantastic deliverable products. Working with Natalie is a pleasure and an inspiration to all levels in our NPD team. She has helped grow and nurture talented young professionals as well as great communication between processor and retailer. For translation of great ideas into great products Natalie is key to your business’
Why is work so important for you?
Selfishly, maintaining career control and independence, staying at the top of my game, being current, creative and not losing the hard work I have put into my career
My passion over the last 15 years is really important to me and my identity, but also as a role model to my children – I want my children to see a successful, working mum with her own identity, who can adapt and change to any situation, not just a, “wife of…”
Lastly, a genuine passion to help clients launch new food products that consumers start to put into their baskets, there is no better feeling when you see months of hard work turn into successful selling food products that customers enjoy!
What advice would you give fellow Military spouses who want to start their own business?
Be tenacious, single minded, focussed and don’t over-think it. In my experience, there is never an ‘ideal’ time to start, the uncertainty of life as a military spouse makes planning too far ahead a significant challenge and for me can be the source of frustration, but also opportunity, to explore new markets and access new clients that I may not have otherwise noticed.
The ability to get up to speed quickly, embrace change, build rapport and create relationships quickly – we’re not in one place for too long so the speed of transition is key to momentum. Oh, and celebrate the small achievements, sometimes we can be way too hard on ourselves! (Note to self!)