A consuming passion: Interview with Jim Moseley

Jim Moseley, president of the Food and Drink Federation, speaks of both his pride and frustration in representing the UK food industry. Jane Gray interviews

There are no healthy or unhealthy foods,” says Jim Moseley as he urges me to join him in topping up our coffee with blue-top milk. “Everyone goes for the green and red stuff,” he winces. “That’s not milk.”

In an era of dietary obsession, his down-to-earth pragmatism is refreshing – especially in the run up to Christmas when supermarkets and food manufacturers tempt us to partake generously in all kinds of sumptuous festive fare.

“It’s perfectly OK to treat yourself at Christmas, and other times,” Moseley says as we settle in his office at General Mills where he attends to the day job of UK managing director. “It’s all about balance.”

OK. But how easily does that measured stance sit in a world of antagonistic pressures on food companies?

They must support relentless supermarket promotions of their products at the same time as shouldering more responsibility for consumer waste and nutritional intake.

Jim and the Beanstalk

Jim Moseley’s highly successful career in the food industry was, for many years, something of an accidental distraction from his primary ambition to get into agriculture.

“I grew up in north London. But despite living in that urban environment, I started cultivating my back garden and growing runner beans as a child. I was also deeply impressed by a school trip to a model farm. I thought the idea of battling the elements every day and working outside was my dream,” Moseley recalls.

The agricultural ideal stuck with the young Moseley through university, where he studied agriculture and food marketing.

“After that, I joined FMC on a management training scheme and that was as close as I got to agriculture – everything just seemed to steer itself towards sales and marketing which I knew I had an instinct for.”

Pack it in

Moseley is keen to emphasise that food manufacturers do not blindly pander either to supermarket or consumer demands for more of their products in order to fuel their businesses.

“No industry can, or should, rely on waste for increasing sales,” states Mr Moseley. “Manufacturers certainly have a responsibility to reduce waste, in the factory, the supermarket and after sale.”

It’s a topic that has come under intense scrutiny this year following the publication of a report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in January which showed that, globally, 50% of food is thrown away.

This high profile report threw a longstanding issue into the spotlight and added fuel to existing programmes to combat waste. Moseley says that FDF already had a strong track record in this area but has subsequently worked with the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) on a Fresher for Longer campaign to promote understanding of how advances in food packaging can reduce consumer waste.

An exciting possibility in this department, which brings together the world of food production and nanotechnology, is the development of packaging that can demonstrate when food is beginning to spoil.

Bye-bye BOGOF

A more sensitive area in negotiating a reduction in food waste and maintaining the integrity of industry messaging on food, is supermarket promotion Moseley admits.

“Clearly ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ offers, which have been very popular in the UK, can be seen to encourage waste – particularly of shorter life products,” he observes.

“It can be difficult,” he continues, “to come to mutual promotional strategy agreements with supermarkets.”

Particularly since these notoriously competitive retailers have only become more voraciously deal-driven since the recession brought a decline in supermarket loyalty and increasing consumer tendency to shop around for value.

Food strategy

Having spent his early years hankering after a farming career, and his first professional steps managing food production at FMC, Jim maintains a fascination for the relationship between growing or rearing food and processing and manufacturing it before the marketing stage. He has strong views on the need for end to end strategic management of food supply chains.

This being the case, Moseley admits he is disappointed with the reach of government’s recently launched Agri-tech Sector Strategy, given that it has been made clear a formal Food Manufacturing Sector Strategy is unlikely.

“Government’s current approach doesn’t make sense to me,” says Moseley. “We recently had Nick Clegg [deputy prime minister] and Danny Alexander [chief secretary to the Treasury] visit General Mill’s Berwick factory and I took the opportunity to talk to them about the imperative of establishing a whole food chain strategy – not one that only deals with the primary end.”

Moseley demonstrated the inextricable link between the quality and consistency of General Mills’ pastry production, and the quality or type of flour delivered by suppliers.

“Flour can change quite considerably from season to season – due to the type of wheat and the weather. This means we have to work incredibly closely with our suppliers to understand how we might need to change our recipe or manufacturing process to eliminate variation.”

Moseley sums up: “It has not been made clear where the Agri-tech Strategy will cut off, but clearly we need to make the argument to government that there must be a strategy that covers the entire food production chain.”

However, a reduction in disposable income and a rise in price consciousness slowly altering promotional strategies says Moseley. “There’s an argument that a consumer who is concerned about cost, and about waste, is more likely to go for a lower price point than for buyone get-one-free,” he says. “Therefore, we’re seeing more ‘round pound’ deals replace buy-one-get-one-free as the favourite UK promotional model.”

The impact of these kinds of promotional cycles on the competitiveness and efficiency of UK food manufacturing is significant according to Moseley. “The UK food industry sells an unusually high proportion of its products ‘on deal’, compared to other markets,” he explains. “The problem this presents for food manufacturers is that retailers, obviously wanting to buy as aggressively as they can for their consumers, will shop around to see what deals can be made with suppliers.”

This drives short term volatility into the marketplace, forcing manufacturers to hold more inventory than they might like because they are not sure whether, or when, a deal might be struck. Moseley explains, “A few years ago General Mills would have a clear business plan with a retailer with anticipated production peaks and troughs throughout the year. Today, we see that business plan being ambushed by other offers coming in from competing suppliers.”

Understandably, retailers are taking ample advantage of this, says Moseley. “But it means that we are not as planned in our production and has added some flexibility into the supply chain at the very time when we really don’t need it.”

Bad rep

Responding to this mixture of social, ethical and commercial pressures is the lot of the modern food manufacturer and

Mosely is proud of the industry’s record on facing up to the challenge.

“In my president’s speech at FDF’s annual dinner this year, which marked the body’s centenary, I spoke of the contributions the food industry has made to society in the last hundred years in terms of money, time and health.

“In real terms food is cheaper, taking up a smaller proportion of the average income than ever before. Ready meals and processed foods also mean that it is faster to prepare food than ever before and, despite concerns about obesity, the average person is certainly better nourished, with a longer life expectancy than they had a hundred years ago.”

But even as Moseley’s litany of praise for the food industry’s achievements goes on, it becomes clear that pride is mixed with deep frustration.

“I don’t think that any of this is recognised by the general public. I don’t think the food sector’s resilience against recession, its nine consecutive years of export growth or the UK’s leadership on the reduction of salt content in manufactured foods are appreciated.

“Nor is the fact that we have quadrupled the number of apprenticeships in the sector since 2011 and launched the first food engineering degree this year to raise skills and standards in the industry.”

Instead, says an incensed Moseley, food manufacturers are by turns criticised for making people fat when they don’t move fast enough to adjust recipes in response to research findings, and then for greedy profiteering if they reduce portion sizes at the behest of the Department of Health.

“The reputation of the industry is poor and I don’t think it has improved at all in the last few years,” he sums up. “That is incredibly frustrating when you know all the positive things that are being done and the benefits they bring in allowing people to have convenient, affordable, increasingly nutritious and safe food to an extent which other markets openly admire.”

Jim Moseley’s career highs and lows

Moment to savour: It’s difficult to pick a best moment. I have always been interested by my work. But I suppose in the last three years that interest has been magnified by holding the FDF presidency. This has added a whole new dimension to my work, getting me deeply involved in industry challenges and with government. In business, you come at challenges and problems from a company perspective.

What is fascinating is that, since there will be many perspectives on a certain issue within the food and drink industry, from an FDF perspective I am challenged to take all of them into balance, understand them, and form a majority view.”

Bad taste in the mouth: I haven’t experienced my worst moment yet, but I know what it will be – retirement. When I come to work I am consumed by the job. I simply don’t have a clue what I will do when I retire.”