Co-op Student to Manager: Nicole Madsen’s Journey in the Food and Beverage Processing Industry

Employers are invested in their people and want to help them grow within the company. Look inside any food and beverage processor and you’ll find people who started out as a co-op student who have since advanced into more senior positions.

When you start a job in the food and beverage processing industry as a co-op student, you could also be starting a career.

It’s one of the many benefits of working in the industry. Employers are invested in their people and want to help them grow within the company. Look inside any food and beverage processor and you’ll find people who started out on the plant floor who have since advanced into more senior positions.

Many food and beverage processing companies offer training opportunities and programs for existing employees, leading many to grow their careers in-house. They foster a culture of continuous learning, where employees are free to express where they’d like to learn more and grow.

This is exactly the experience Nicole Madsen has had with Bonduelle. She started with the company as a co-op student in 2004 and is still working in the company today as Quality Manager.

We recently talked to Nicole about her career journey and why more people should work in the food and beverage processing sector:

How did you get started at Bonduelle back in 2004?

I have always been a bit of an environmentalist and found that after high school I was working both in car factory and in the service industry to save up tuition.  I had decided to take a science based Environmental Technology program from Fanshawe College of Applied Arts & Technology which included Co-Op terms as part of the curriculum. Bonduelle was offering Co-Ops in the processing lab, and that is how it all began!

Your first full-time role at Bonduelle was a quality technician in the packaging lab, what did that job entail?

The role of a quality technician is a key role in the food safety system.  Even at the entry level, the controls and key indicators that I was tasked with monitoring was a big responsibility as a student and overall quite critical to the overall operation and the safety of the food we were making. It has so many various components to it. Inspections, documentation, Product testing, Swabbing, Microbiological plating, wet chemistry, Process Audits, the list goes on, so much variety!

How has Bonduelle helped and supported you as you grew your career?

It’s no secret Bonduelle is about growing and promoting employees from within, which is a wonderful attribute of the company, and speaks loudly to those who are interested and prepared to try something new. 

For each new role, there were always helping hands to help me learn the nuances and responsibilities of the job.  Formal training is budgeted for, and also Bonduelle has a tuition re-imbursement program which is extremely valuable to those who continuously learn!

You’re now working as the Quality Manager, can your describe how you worked your way up to that position?

I spent four years in the processing lab between Co-ops and finishing University.  From there an opening in the Packaging side of the business opened up, which I was really eager to explore.  After a year in packaging, the QA Coordinator role became available, which I was in for six years before I was ready and able to fill the role of Quality Manager.

Tell us about your current role as Quality Manager?

It’s hard to put it in one little package, but you’re really involved in everything that has to do with the manufacturing, receiving, processing, packaging and shipping of our food goods.

We must be regulatory compliant. We have to meet our customers’ expectations and we have to meet our third party audit expectations. We have many standards by which we have to be continuously challenging ourselves, yet still be efficient, and continuously improve within our systems and deliver the safest product possible to millions of people that are consuming this on their dinner plates every night.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I learn something new – every single day.  Every day. 

Also, consuming our products! Seeing our products be purchased in the grocery stores, knowing the customer is getting a wholesome, fresh and nutritious vegetable ingredient to have on their plates!

Another is fostering a learning environment. Here, we’re really firm believers in growing people from within and personal development. It’s really rewarding to see an international student who is in their very first work term, they’ve never had a job before . . . and they walk in the door, and they find a Bonduelle family. They want to come back the next year and then they become a full-time employee and now they’re a food industry worker. That was because of the investment that we have made here in our employees.

What would you say to someone who’s hesitant about working in the food and beverage processing industry, particularly in more entry-level positions?

I would have to ask, why would you be hesitant? You have to start somewhere. Everyone starts somewhere and you have to take that first step.

You aren’t expected to know everything. This is one of the greatest fears that I see of even our Co Op students that are coming here . . . they don’t have to know everything, they just need to listen, learn, stay curious and be responsible for the tasks that they’re given and be accountable for their actions. There’s no way that they can fail.

The Food and beverage processing industry is an endless roadmap to infinite opportunities, you just need to start.

What’s your advice for someone looking to start their career in the food and beverage processing industry?

There are basic food safety handling programs out there, whether it’s through public health or through the colleges to get a basic certificate. If you can get that sort of experience on your resume with a very small academic commitment it will catch the eye of employers and put you on the top of the pile.

Ready to get some FREE online training to help you land a job the food and beverage processing industry?

Sign up for a free CareersNOW! Jobseekers account.

As a CareersNOW! Jobseeker, you’ll have access to 14 Job Ready skills training courses that will help your application stand out!

You’ll also have access to virtual job fairs, virtual mentorship sessions, job postings and other resources to help kickstart your career in Ontario’s food and beverage processing sector.