Insatiable appetite for healthy food and convenience fuels innovation drive

8th June 2017

The pressure has never been greater on firms in the food sector to innovate in order to compete.

Meeting the demands of switched on consumers with an insatiable appetite for healthier food and convenience is one of the key drivers, and there is an ongoing battle to find the magic ingredients.

Online ordering and delivery services which successfully combine both, like HelloFresh and Amazon Fresh, and those connecting restaurants and couriers including UberEats and Deliveroo, are enjoying rapid growth.

Technological advances which have enabled these new entrants to the market to launch range from mobile applications to new biobased packaging materials.

Firms are also under pressure to find ways to reduce food waste and energy consumption, while coming up with new functional foods bringing additional health benefits. Technology is also at the centre of foodomics, a discipline improving both food nutrition and consumer awareness.

Competition among the grocery giants and fast food franchises in the ‘healthy choices’ market is fierce.

Last month Tesco launched its ‘Little helps to healthier living’ campaign, which is promoting healthier foods and running in store health checks, while Subway was proclaiming it was slashing 4bn calories from British diets after introducing low sugar drinks in its branches.

One of the key issues faced by global R&D organisations is the length of time it takes from conception to launch of new innovation and product initiatives, particularly in those multinationals with large complex legacy manufacturing facilities, versus more nimble financially backed competitors who can outsource through co-manufacturing and co-packaging channels.

The vital importance of nurturing innovation in the sector has not been lost on government. Last month Scotland’s food and drink industry announced the launch of Make Innovation Happen, a Scottish Enterprise funded service to support businesses to innovate.

This followed a similar move weeks earlier by the Welsh Government, Project Helix – a £21m initiative providing funding for research into global food production, trends and waste to help SMEs increase production and reduce waste.

Consumer demand for nutritious food also extends to the $70bn global pet food industry, with the rising trend of pet humanisation a major driver for growth – aided by rapidly rising online sales.

New entrants include US based The Farmer’s Dog, which is sending freshly made food directly to customers’ doors. The firm is using smart technology to create customised meal plans based on a dog’s breed, age, size and activity level, delivered within days of preparation.

The significant demand in the human and pet food industries for executives with technical innovation expertise is reflected in recent global search mandates HW has been commissioned to deliver.

This includes the VP of a global innovation centre in Germany, a VP of Technical Innovation in North America, and the head of a new Food Safety centre in Beijing.

As a truly international executive search and professional interim business, HW advises many of the world’s most recognised and respected brands, among them the leaders in consumer products and services, and retail operations of all shapes and sizes.

Our long-term relationships with senior industry leaders and key stakeholders, give us access to market-leading talent, and the opportunity to attract top quartile executive professionals.

Contact the Global Consumer Practice at HW Global Talent Partner on +44 (0)161 249 5170 for an informal discussion.


How to improve your chances of securing your first NED position

4th April 2017

By Pascale Gara

If you are an executive thinking about taking on your first non-executive directorship there are a number of key considerations you need to make.

First time NEDs are often surprised by the huge difference in the nature of the role. It can take time to adjust to being a non-executive as opposed to a full member of the executive team.

As an NED you need to bring an impartial, independent view to the boardroom. Your role is to scrutinise performance, constructively challenge, offer strategic input, identify new opportunities, introduce contacts, and highlight issues that executive colleagues have not.

Time management is another vital skill; NEDs can easily find themselves working far more than the two or three days per month they are typically remunerated for.

With a big push on diversity in the boardroom, there is huge demand for experienced all- rounders from a range of backgrounds who can bring industry specific expertise in key areas. Those with a background in risk/compliance and audit are particularly sought after given the increasing focus on corporate governance.

But it can be difficult to secure your first NED position with no previous experience in a non-executive role. It can help to first take on a non-remunerated role in the public sector.

You should arrange coaching/mentoring, ideally from an experienced Chair or NED with a number of non-executive roles under their belt.

Whether you are looking to move from an executive role into a portfolio career of non-executive positions or combine the two, you need to build up a range of marketable skills and develop your networks as it is likely to be a headhunter who is conducting the non-executive director search.

It is important to find the right non-executive role; it needs to be a good fit with your skill set and culture/values. You need to think carefully about the type of company whose board you want to join.

After all, you will be carrying a great deal of responsibility for the company’s financial performance, controls and risk management, as well as executive remuneration and the appointment and removal of executives.

Your own remuneration is another important consideration; it will bear no relation to executive salaries and, many would argue, to the actual responsibility held – and there will be no bonuses or share options.

NEDs looking at holding a number of non-executive directorships can find it difficult to build up portfolios because of potential conflict; for example holding positions on the boards of businesses in the same sector. They also need to take care to not change their directorships too often, or their reputation for doing this could precede them.

Phil Moorhouse, Chairman of Newcastle Building Society for the last four years, has held a number of senior board positions, is also Chair of Molins Plc and sits on the board of North Group. He was named North East Non-Executive of the Year 2015 at the North East Business Executive of the Year Awards.

Phil said: “Perhaps surprisingly after executive careers, Non-Executive Director roles can also be challenging, interesting and enjoyable. NEDs need to remember that the executives live and breathe the business on a daily basis, but NEDs can help keep focus on the bigger picture and support as well as challenge the executive to deliver strategic goals.

“Don’t rush into the first non-executive position that comes along; consider carefully and take some time to get the right one. Sector experience isn’t always necessary or desirable; identify those companies where your experience might fit with wider business issues and where you could add value.

“Personally I have found a sense of humour and enthusiasm very helpful in contributing to the all-important culture of an organisation.”


Pascale Gara is a Consultant in the Chair & NED Practice at HW Global Talent Partner.

Contact her at or +44 (0) 781 258 2486 for a confidential discussion.

eCommerce investment the key to getting closer to the consumer

30th March 2017

Stuart Richards, a consultant in the Global Consumer practice at HW Global Talent Partner, answers questions on eCommerce in our latest blog.

What do you think is the single biggest issue right now for the retail and consumer industry?

All our clients are looking at ways to get closer to the consumer. To do this, most are embracing digital transformation, by investing in technology and talent, building capability and leverage data and analytics in order to drive innovation and grow the bottom line. Boards are faced with the choice, whether to trade through an etailer partner (Amazon or Alibaba) or a direct-to-customer approach.

Why are so few firms getting eCommerce right and what can they learn from those who are?

Some businesses have just been too slow to react to emerging technology and the changing consumer demand it is driving, but to be fair it is all still relatively new and constantly changing. Many are still not prepared to invest sufficiently in digital transformation, and risk being left behind by more forward thinking competitors. As the world’s largest eCommerce business with $80bn in annual sales, Amazon can afford to invest heavily and take risks on innovation. Recent additions like the Dash Button and Prime Air are truly ground-breaking and potentially game changing. Another eCommerce success story is Liverpool-based Shop Direct, which has just been named OC&C pureplay etailer of the year for the third time running. This summer it is opening a hub in London’s Victoria to house 250 staff working on data, eCommerce, IT, brand and product to develop new paths in retail technology innovation, including investment in advanced analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Shop Direct was praised by award judges for doing ‘pioneering things’ and entering the digital era ‘in style, going further than almost any business’. It is a great example of a business that recognised the need to move away from its catalogue/DM focused heritage and invest in technology to become a class-leading eCommerce player.

What do you see as the biggest emerging issue for the sector?

Investment. Boards need to look beyond the current 3-5% that their digital channels may currently account for and instead focus on the potential 70% growth they could generate with appropriate investment. Some firms are even retracting from eCommerce strategies, failing to recognise the positive impact on the overall business across the entire channel mix.

What are the key challenges facing global consumer giants in terms of eCommerce?

These will centre on harnessing technology to get closer to the consumer, making the customer journey as straight forward as possible. Recent Amazon innovations such as the Dash Button remove the hassle of mundane tasks like going to buy washing powder when you run out. In a recent blog Keith Higgins, Global EVP eCommerce, Omni-Channel, Smart Data at Unilever, highlighted the mobile phone, voice activation and the use of smart data to enable targeted interactions as being key to the future development of eCommerce.

Is there a dearth of talent in the digital director role, making it a highly competitive market for executive search?

It is definitely a candidate-led market and there are opportunities across the consumer landscape. But it is such a diverse function that requires a complex set of skills (trading, P&L ownership, strategic capability building and execution, marketing and analytics) that finding a well-rounded professional can be a real challenge. It is perhaps not surprising we have former employees of global eCommerce leaders like Amazon and eBay on most shortlists. Recent assignments for global CPG businesses have included global e-commerce director positions in London and New York, a global head of data & analytics working between the UK and US, CMI director positions in France, Belgium and London, a European digital marketing director, and a measurement & analytics director based in Chicago. Because of our track record delivering executive hires for tier one global retailers and CPG businesses, we are able to add genuine insight in a truly consultative way, identifying strategic goals and finding the best talent globally to add value to the bottom line.

Contact Stuart Richards at or on +44 (0) 7787 254 600 for a confidential discussion.