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Graduate schemes in the food industry: JDE Peet’s, Diageo, and Kepak

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11 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
A group of adults are indoors in an office. They are sitting around a table and having a business meeting. A woman is prompting her coworker to speak.

If you’re currently studying for your degree, you might be thinking about applying to some graduate schemes in the food industry.

Available to recent university graduates, graduate schemes are a mixture of entry-level roles and training programmes, which typically introduce you to working at the company and give you the opportunity to develop practical experience in different areas and departments.

If you want to apply for a graduate scheme while you study, it’s important to do so within the first three years after graduating. If you want to launch into your career right after finishing your studies however, you should begin applying to graduate programmes during your final year of university, as companies typically recruit their cohorts a year in advance.

At the Food Matters Live Inspiring Careers in Food event held in London earlier in November, we found out more about the exciting opportunities on offer at three leading companies in the food and drink industry: tea and coffee company JDE Peet’s, alcoholic beverages giant Diageo and meat producer Kepak. From manufacturing and R&D to supply chain analyst and marketing roles, the organisations run a range of graduate schemes – giving recent graduates the opportunity to learn about areas of the food industry they want to work in and grow their skill set.  

JDE Peet’s

If you’ve ever made yourself a cup of coffee or tea, it’s very likely you’ll have come across JDE Peet’s already. Available in over 100 markets and with 19,000 associates, it’s fair to say the company has an expansive global reach. There’s a huge demand from consumers for its products, “Last year we served 4500 cups of coffee and tea every second globally,” explains Dr Jade Phillips, External Technology & Science Specialist at JDE Peet’s. The company owns over 50 brands, including Douwe Egberts, Kenco, Senseo, Pickwick, L’Or and Tassimo to name a few.

Some of the career opportunities offered by JDE Peet’s include:

  • Development Specialist: works on development of capsules and getting commissioning from the factories on the new lines and the new recipes.
  • QDA Panel Lead: completes requested consumer trial projects and analyses data and presents it to key stakeholders.
  • Modelling Statistics Specialist: helps to improve the quality of certain processes by looking at the interactions that occur between products and trying to find ways to reduce wastage.
  • Sustainable Nutrition and Regulatory Specialist: needs to be aware of new regulations coming into play and figures out how to incorporate these changes into the business.
  • Process Specialist – Installations and Factory Support: creates installations of new production lines and technologies in factories – a role which is involved both in the R&D and operations side of the company.
  • Competitive Intelligence Specialist: keeps up to date with new and upcoming trends in the industry, and helps the organisation think about how they can hop onto that trend, or improve it in some way.

While a range of graduate scheme positions are available, science-based roles are particularly important to the company as they’re essential to helping it make such successful products, says Jade.

“We have things like our instant bistro style products, and these really need a complex integral design”, she explains. “Because coffee is acidic, you need to have stability to make sure your protein is protected from the milk protein, as well as stability against heat shock. You’ll also have to figure out how you can protect the product from the heat of boiling water. There’s also the question of different mineral compositions in water, meaning you may have to adapt your recipes to meet these in different countries.”

These are all skills that you’ll develop on the job to help you build your knowledge of the company and ensure its products are of the best quality. Jade explains, “Of course, you can’t be expected to know about things like the mineral composition of water in a country, so we offer training and the opportunity to go to trials and conferences to build your understanding.”

Training could take place internally or externally depending on your role says Jade, “It depends on what we might train you into. It might be around things like the particle droplet size, or the spray angle and the nozzle dimensions. There are also a lot of analytical tools within JDE that we use, so if you’re very much into material science and the complexity of science, you can [receive training on that.]”

With office locations in 40 different countries, graduate schemes at JDE Peet’s give you the chance to travel and relocate somewhere on the other side of the world if you want to. “It really enables personal development and growth and gives you the chance to travel and experience different cultures,” says Jade. “I’m English but I live in the Netherlands. [Another colleague] was living in Germany but decided he wanted a complete culture change and moved to Singapore. We can still work at the same company but get a completely different experience.”

What do I need to get onto this programme?

  • Make sure you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile that stands out.
  • Tailor your CV and cover letter per application. For JDE Peet’s for instance, it’s worth looking at the key values of the company – discipline, simplicity, solidarity entrepreneurship, and accountability – and figuring out ways in which you can incorporate those into the cover letter.
  • Read the job specification carefully – a job title isn’t always what it seems. If the job description is broad, make sure you ask questions about the role when you go into an interview to find out what type of projects you’d be working on and whether you would be able to bring value to those.
  • If you reach the interview stage, make sure you have done your research on the company, and use that knowledge so the recruiter knows you understand the organisation well and are interested in what they do.
  • Know your key strengths. Whether it’s communication, organisation or being data driven, you need to be able to explain what qualities you’re going to bring to the company if you’re hired.

Find out what programmes are currently available at JDE Peet’s here.


Diageo offers its graduates the opportunity to work with over 200 brands sold in more than 180 countries – from Guinness, Baileys and Tanqueray to Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, and Johnnie Walker.

The organisation offers six different graduate programmes, each running between two to three years. They involve two to three role rotations and are located across Great Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe.

The six graduate programmes Diageo offers are:

  • Supply Chain and Manufacturing
  • Digital and Technology
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resources

Each programme is typically split up into the following:

  • 70% on the job experience, supported by formal and informal opportunities.
  • 20% involves development, which comes from feedback sessions, observations through learning what senior leaders do in the business and formal mentoring and coaching – provided by not only a mentor, but also a buddy, your line manager and the Early Careers Programme Manager.
  • 10% features formal training and workshops which focus on Diageo’s leadership standards, to inspire graduates and help them learn how they could become future leaders of the company.

What do I need to get onto this programme?

If you’re interested in this programme, applications are accepted a year in advance and open in October.

The application process for the graduate scheme involves:

  • Stage 1: picking the programme that suits you and filling out a short form and answering some short introductory questions. You’ll also have upload a CV, which will be looked at and assessed at the final stage.
  • Stage 2: playing a series of twelve games which measure your personal attributes and give you a personalised report.
  • Stage 3: taking part in a virtual interview where you’ll be asked five competency questions related to Diageo’s leadership standards and values.
  • Stage 4: taking part in a half day virtual assessment, where you’ll learn about the business and company culture, and about your graduate programme. You’ll be able to ask questions and learn more about the training process.

Find out what programmes are currently available at Diageo here.


Since it was founded in 1966 in County Meath, Ireland, Kepak has transformed from a family-owned local butcher shop to an international meat producer with over 5,000 employees working across 43 countries.

If you’re interested in a graduate programme which could lead to a managerial role, joining Kepak could be the right choice for you. Its scheme has been running for 30 years and has produced most of the company’s Senior Managers, according to Cian Short, Careers Manager at Kepak. “I’m sure lots of businesses will say that, but we can point our finger to it”, he explains. “During our last induction, there were nine Managers and Directors coming down to talk to graduates. We have an amazing track record of people becoming Senior Managers, because that’s what we want – we want you to grow from within and we want people to feel part of the family.”

The programme is about working closely with leaders and experts. You get to spend a lot of time with people who run the business. There are regular interactions with senior leaders like the CEO. “They care about the people who work for them,” says Cian. “That’s because success for us in a programme is people who’ve stayed with us for five years or more. We don’t want to churn people through a graduate programme. That’s not what we’re about.”

Kepak’s two-year programme features:

  • The opportunity to work in a variety of departments: from NPD, International Sales Management, Business Unit Management, Supply Chain, and Finance.
  • A detailed learning journey: the company highlights what knowledge, skills, and behaviours it wants its graduates to develop by the end of the two years, meaning they know what is expected of them when they join, what opportunities they’ll be exposed to and how they’re going to grow.
  • A training plan mapped to the learner journey: this plan is tailored to you and will help you learn certain skills you may not have had the chance to develop yet. This could include training in Excel, effective self-leadership, presentation, or communication skills.
  • Support from a mentor: to help you progress and give you good career advice throughout your two years.
  • Access to a buddy network: which connects you with alumni from the programme, allowing you to ask them questions about their career and the training you may not want to ask your mentor.
  • Opportunities to engage with senior leaders at the company: Directors, Heads of Function, the HR Director or even the CEO.
  • The chance to complete a qualification in your second year: a recognised qualification from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).

During the programme, you’ll have the opportunity to work in various areas of the business this could be more operational and or more office-based roles. “We want to help people explore what they want to do, rather than pigeonhole you from day one. You might be fixated on one thing now but might want to try a different area later on. We have several people now working in health and safety or technical roles who joined us as commercial marketing graduates.”

What will help me get onto this programme?

Kepak’s graduate scheme also offers the opportunity to work in the food industry without having completed a degree in food. “Graduates can come from all disciplines for the Irish and UK side. We don’t have specific degrees that we recruit from because talent comes from everywhere,” says Cian.

But before anything else, “It’s important that our core values align with your values, and we’re the type of business that you want to work for”, he explains. “When you go out looking for any business to join, it’s important that you do some research on who they are and how they operate. If you align with that, you’ll be way happier as you’ve thought about what matters to you.”

The main qualities Kepak look for in prospective graduates relate to the company’s own values, which are:

  • Responsibility: being able to use your own initiative successfully and to help Kepak strive for change and be better at what they do, and show a willingness to learn.
  • Teamwork: with such a large team, you need to show a willingness to work together to help the company achieve its goals.
  • Ambition: it’s important to go into this scheme knowing a bit about what you’re looking for in your career and where you want to go to, as well as showing motivation to work hard and determination to succeed.  
  • Passion for food: you need to have a love for the industry you work in and recognise its importance.

Finding ways to incorporate these values into your application and your interview will help the company see how you could make a suitable candidate for the programme.

Find out what programmes are currently available at Kepak here.


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