One of the great things about working in the food and beverage processing industry is there are so many opportunities to move up the ladder and grow into a successful and rewarding career.
In fact, a lot of people working in the industry have followed that path. They started in a more entry-level position and the company supported them in pursuing new opportunities within the business.
One of those people is Michelle Papineau, who started at Bonduelle in 1998 as a Line Inspector. Today, she works for the company as the Corporate Inventory Manager.
We recently chatted with Michelle about her career journey, what she loves about working in the industry, and her advice for those looking to join it:
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how your career journey started with Bonduelle in 1998?
I was living in Ingersoll, and I had stayed home with my son until he started school full-time in grade one. Kobe Food [a company that was later purchased by Bonduelle] was a community company and there was a lot of people that we had met who worked there in some capacity, either then or at some point. So, I took a chance and submitted my resume, and I was hired to work in the packaging hall.
You started at the company as a Line Inspector. Can you tell us about that position and what it entailed?
The Ingersoll facility produced frozen finished goods, so packaged items. Part of the process is when the 17-pound tote goes into the line. Somebody needs to inspect the vegetables to make sure there’s nothing obvious that needs to be removed. That was my job and that’s how I started there.
You now work at the company as the Corporate Inventory Manager, can you describe how you worked your way up to that position?
I had had my fill of inspecting vegetables. While it’s a very important job, I was ready for a new challenge. I started to post for other jobs in that same room and worked at the mix line for a little while, where I got to do a few different jobs, such as clean up, etc. It gave me an opportunity to see the full spectrum of the manufacturing aspect of it. It was interesting to me.
At one point, there was a job opportunity in the office for what they were calling an Inventory Clerk. Those were straight days where I was on shift work, and I took a chance and put my resume in and I got the job. That’s where it started. I was an inventory coordinator with Kobe foods, then we were Strathroy foods, then Carrier Foods, and finally Bonduelle acquired us. I did that job for many years with all the changes and opportunities that came within.
Once we were Bonduelle, I just needed something a little bit different to challenge me. One of the jobs that came up was Application Support Analyst. What that entailed was doing system training for the folks from the floor and anybody using our central system, as well as documentation. Again, I took a chance, and I got the job. I was very lucky in that respect as well… I did that job for about seven years.
Then again, it was a challenging time, I was looking for something a little bit different. My current job, a brand new position of Inventory Manager, came up. I took a chance on it, and I was lucky enough to be given that opportunity.
Can you describe the support or training you received from the company as you worked your way to where you are now?
The fact that I was given the opportunity right off the bat is the biggest support that you can give somebody because you’re allowing them to get into that job and bring their experience. I think that the day-to-day support that I was given in all those positions was great. I surrounded myself with people who were good at that job or who could help me out and everybody was extremely helpful.
Bonduelle was always really good at allowing me to say, “here’s what I feel like, I need to learn this.” They allowed me to travel to the different sites in all these positions. That made it a lot easier for me to get acclimated to all of these jobs because I had the opportunity to network face-to-face and see how things are done in the different plants, which right now is a big part of my current job.
What does your current job as Inventory Manager at Bonduelle entail?
I came into this position in December 2017, so the job has morphed. Initially, it was going to be a very analytical and a lot of analysis, which it still is. However, part of the job was also leading a team that is focusing on the movement of the inventory of these products every day from our three [product lines] and from our main warehouses. It’s my job to make sure they’re trained. So, while I do analyze the inventory, a lot of my job is making sure that the coordinators can support the teams. There’s also documentation, continuous improvement projects, which is where I wanted to land at this point.
What is your favourite thing about your job at Bonduelle?
Really, it is continuous improvement, whether it’s a small initiative or something big. I feel like it starts with that small stuff, it starts on the floor. I’ve seen it from that aspect, and I still do today. Even though manufacturing has changed since 1998, I still use some of the things I learned there to improve processes straight up the chain. I love that aspect of it.
What would you say to someone who is hesitant about starting in a more entry-level position in the food and beverage processing industry?
I don’t understand why somebody wouldn’t want to be in food and beverage. Just thinking of the pandemic alone, people were frontline workers, and everybody worked through and we didn’t skip a beat. We never shut down. Things changed a little bit and we had to reposition to make things happen, but the security that we had in our jobs through the pandemic, I was personally very grateful for that.
I also feel like there’s such a surge toward plant-based products and not even veganism or anything like that. But people are getting excited about eating healthy again and eating at home and cooking. I can’t imagine why somebody would not want to get introduced to this business.
Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to get into the industry?
Regardless of what industry you’re in, just keep learning. Anytime you have an opportunity, don’t not take that job because you’re not sure you can get it, or you think you’re too old or ‘I’m a girl’ or things like that. Forget your fears and always move towards learning something because you’ll never be disappointed. it might not be the end game that you thought, but every time you learn something, it brings you closer to your career path. So, for young people, I say keep learning.
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