The Caterer interview: Katya Simmons
Katya Simmons, managing director of Nestlé Professional UK and Ireland, speaks to Lisa Jenkins about the company's vision, its role in the wider industry and the importance of nurturing young chefs
What does the role of managing director at Nestlé Professional involve?
For me, it's about taking all the knowledge I've earned from other parts of the Nestlé business and applying that intelligence to the foodservice sector. Nestlé is formed of multiple businesses: I also sit on the board of what we call Nestlé in the Market, and the home board of Nestlé Professional EMENA. However, my focus has been on the UK and Ireland out-of-home market, with time spent piloting new projects and supporting other markets.
I have a masters in engineering, so I have a technical mind, but as a manager I am driven to improve the business and to support people. I'm passionate about people and I want the Nestlé team to come to work and feel they are progressing, and I like to help people take on new challenges.
How long have you worked for Nestlé?
I started with the company in 2002 as a merchandiser for supermarkets; this was during my fourth year at university, in Russia. Then after university I worked with Nestlé in field sales and then on to account management. The Russian market is set up by different channels; and working as part of the category channel sales department, I was involved in trade activations, category management and strategy.
Marketing was the next area of the business I moved into and I stayed there for a number of years. My last role in marketing was as marketing director for chocolate in Russia. Eventually, I became managing director for the Nestlé Professional Russia and Eurasia market and this involved driving innovation, supporting brands and managing the whole value chain for foodservice business.
When I met my husband, who is English, we made the decision to move to the UK and I was lucky enough to be offered the role of business effectiveness manager with George Vezza in February 2017. I was announced as Vezza's replacement in June 2018. I finally took on the role as managing director in July 2018.
What was the brief on taking over from Vezza?
I didn't have a brief, but Vezza and I had many common views. I spent my first six months focusing on our internal and external strategies. Internally we had a number of team changes and promotions and now we have a channel focus, put in place with some new internal processes for 2019. Externally, I've spent a lot of time meeting many of our customers, sharing ideas and learning.
How does Nestlé Professional integrate with and support the industry?
The out-of-home team has to play a role in forming behaviours and the role of our new product development department is to make sure health is considered in our solutions. We can always do better at supporting our customers and we need to maintain an open dialogue.
What are the Nestlé Professional plans for 2019?
Our aim is to grow in our priority areas while sharing our traditions and innovations in the UK. We need to stay true to where we've come from, but always be open to new opportunities. At the same time we have to continue to deliver the core products our customers love.
What will be the big trends for 2019?
I think all businesses will have to be more agile; we definitely intend to be this way and adaptable to change. From a consumer perspective, their choices are going to be health driven and this means we have to be on top of the
industry in this area. Our customers will also expect more digital interaction from us, and in terms of ingredients - they will want clear sign-posting and reassurance. In terms of innovation, I think customers will be looking for more of a taste experience.
What are the plans for the Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or competition this year?
We genuinely care about the industry and the next generation of young talent coming through, and it's important for us to be part of the process of improving young people's core skills and raising their confidence. We fund this competition fully so there are no costs to the students or colleges.
Every year we meet new students and we put them with the best operators in hospitality who are keen to be part of the Toque d'Or journey, supporting students with their development. On launching this year's competition we focused on a better enrolment process, more communication, and ultimately a better experience for the students.
This year's theme is about sustainability; today's customers want to know how products and dishes are produced, and how sustainable the products are. In foodservice, we have a role to play in setting the right trends, to have an awareness of the correct practices and the students need an understanding of what their future customers will be expecting from them.
This year's prize for the winning team is a trip to Switzerland, where the Nestlé R&D centres are. We have a strong reputation for health and sustainability based at the heart of the company and Switzerland is the perfect country to explore and learn about the 2019 theme.
The Toque vision
Now in its 31st year, the Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or has worked with more than 220 colleges to inspire students and, in the last two years, apprentices, to consider the broad and diverse range of career possibilities within hospitality. By providing competitors with real-life challenges that inform and test them, the vision is to pave the way for the future stars of the industry.
Since it began, Toque d'Or has worked with more than 50 industry companies to establish an influential training and development programme that bridges the gap between the theories of the classroom, work-based learning and the exciting reality of the industry.
By setting young chefs a series of challenges, Nestlé's aim is to provide them with new skills, enhancing their learning and career. Toque d'Or as so much more than just a competition. Its legacy is an alumni of 8,000 contestants, including Jamie Oliver, as well as highly regarded supporters, such as Anton Mosimann and former judge James Martin. Its future is to continue to motivate and inspire potential talent and to open their minds to the opportunities within the hospitality industry.
Simmons is a passionate foodie and coffee lover. She is currently on maternity leave having just had her first child and, with the support of Nestlé, continues to make the most of her career while enjoying family life. Simmons is the first woman in her role at Nestlé UK and Ireland. She has a strong leadership team heading up the operation in her absence.
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