Sam Trick is farming and livestock development manager at Woodheads, one of the best-known businesses in the meat industry, and a wholly owned subsidiary of Morrisons.
Trick has only been involved in food manufacture for four years since she joined the Morrisons’ graduate scheme in 2014. However, in that time she has become an advocate for women in the meat industry through her role on the organising committee of not-for-profit networking
and conference body Meat Business Women, helping to promote the huge opportunities for ambitious women in the sector.
Meat Business Women was set up by Laura Ryan, former strategy director at AHDB Beef & Lamb, with the aim of inspiring more women to succeed in the meat industry. The most recent conference on 10 October in Birmingham attracted high-profile speakers including Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, chair of Red Tractor and former executive director of Tesco.
Trick says she has found the meat industry to be a hugely exciting place to work, with frequent changes of role and a fast-paced working life.
“I’ve only just moved into the farming and livestock management role, but I’ve been spending a lot of time on-farm recently, which is great,” she says. “It’s a team with a real wealth of knowledge. We’ve got 3,500 farmers whom we work really closely with, so I’ve been able to get on pig farms and beef farms, and I’ve been to meet with our Shorthorn society.”
Manufacturing graduate scheme
Trick joined Morrisons on the manufacturing graduate scheme and, after working within the fruit & veg and cut flowers teams, moved over to Woodheads to learn about meat. “I absolutely loved it, and when I went on my first tour of an abattoir, I knew it was for me,” she says.
“I just wanted to know more about it. I went on a placement at Woodheads’ site in Colne, Lancashire, as a team manager of the factory in the pork boning hall, and that was really interesting.
“There were so many people with such skills, knowledge and expertise and I really enjoyed it. It allowed me to take on quite a lot of responsibility quite early within our graduate scheme.”
After working at Colne as a team manager, Trick became a trading manager for external sales at Woodheads. Although Woodheads is wholly owned by Morrisons, not all the beef, pork and lamb produced by Woodheads is sold through Morrisons stores. In order to balance the carcase, some is sold to other UK manufacturers and some is exported.
“Our wholesale business is growing and, as a food maker, we are providing more and more food to our customers. We now provide a range of fresh meat products for the likes of McColl’s and Amazon, and this is driving volumes throughout our manufacturing business.”
From this role in external sales, Trick moved on to her current position as farming and livestock development manager.
She’s now working on a range of projects to do with sustainability, including antibiotic reduction, finding uses for dairy beef, and eating quality projects such as ‘The Best’ Hampshire pork. “It has got great eating quality, and all the research was done by the technical teams to produce a product we could put into our Best range.”
Woodheads has a history stretching back over 100 years. It became a subsidiary of Morrisons in 1991, developing into one of the retailer’s first vertically integrated suppliers.
Morrisons is still the only major supermarket to own its own abattoir and meat processing operations, a model that it claims gives it full traceability and control over its supply chain. And crucially, having its own meat business means it is the only major retailer to buy cattle, sheep and pigs direct from British farmers, with its own team of specialist livestock buyers.
Today, Woodheads has three sites in Lancashire, Aberdeenshire and Lincolnshire and employs 2,700 people. Together, they process more than 3,400 cattle, 15,000 lambs and 28,000 pigs a week.
Being vertically integrated has significant advantages, Morrisons says. “We’re able to supply the absolute best quality possible, respond quickly to what customers want at different times of year, and turn around new product development much faster. Our manufacturing business is absolutely key in our turnaround, as we develop the Morrisons price list on products that our customers like and that we produce.
“As we become more efficient, we reduce cost prices, which then reduce retail selling prices. This enables us to drive volume and give our customers the best possible price.”
Woodheads has integrated its manufacturing, commercial and Market Street divisions, which it says will lead to better accountability for costs, volumes and profit margin throughout the supply chain.
“We are also working to forecast and manage stock better throughout our supply chain, including our 18 manufacturing sites. Working together with our suppliers we believe this will increase efficiency and reduce waste.”
Trick may be at the start of her career in food manufacture but she has clear ideas of where she wants to end up. “I want to get through to director level, but that means different things to different people. However, the main thing is continuing to progress,” she says. “The more you progress, the more you can have a positive impact on other people coming through.”
She is being mentored by Laura Ryan of Meat Business Women, and says she has several other role models in the industry, including Minette Batters, the first female president of the National Farmers Union, and Andrew Thornber, Morrisons’ manufacturing director. “He is a great example of someone who has done well and come from a farming background,” she says.
Trick has recently been selected for the Louise Hartley scholarship and will travel to New Zealand next year to learn about how farmers there made a success of non-subsidy farming.
And it’s clear she’s enthusiastic about getting more young people to consider a career in food manufacture. The opportunities are there, she says. “I came through the graduate scheme but if you have got drive and passion we can find the path for you. So, whether it’s a butchery apprenticeship or a degree apprenticeship there is a route for you,” she says.