Leading supermarket chooses the AFTP to enhance technical manager’s knowledge

Hella Lipper-Morse is an experienced exotic fruit specialist. She has spent many years working with growers worldwide to secure sustainably grown produce. In her early career she specialised in fair-trade bananas before moving to become Technical Manager at Waitrose

Whilst at Waitrose, Hella was responsible for soft fruits, nuts and avocados. She says, “It was my job to look at the quality of the produce, ask growers about their environmental credentials and what measures they had put in place to be more sustainable.”

In her role at Waitrose, Hella was encouraged to increase her knowledge of sustainable fruit production. Her line-manager at Waitrose believed it would be beneficial for her to gain a more in-depth understanding of the produce that Waitrose was buying. To broaden her knowledge, Hella chose to study through the AgriFood Training Partnership (AFTP) because it was a way to learn detailed, postgraduate level, content without having to put her career on-hold.

“I have always believed that it is important we keep learning throughout our lives and the opportunity was too good to miss. With the AFTP, I could train whilst doing my job at Waitrose. At first it was difficult to get back into that way of thinking, but I had a lot of support from my tutors and the content was available online so I could access it whenever I had time.”

Hella chose modules that directly related to her role and that would improve her overall understanding of fruit production. She studied production systems, sustainability and growing techniques to develop a more holistic understanding of the produce she was buying. “The course helped me to understand different farming methods, especially those used in the UK. Earlier in my career I dealt with exotics like bananas, so it was good to understand more about European and domestic produce.” 

Hella studied modules that covered plant protection including integrated pest management (IPM) and learned how to recognise pests and weeds. “Studying with the AFTP helped to change my mindset and become more analytical. I began to think differently, and the access I had to academic research helped me to make more informed decisions for Waitrose. Essentially, I could use the content from the course to solve my day-to-day problems.”

Sustainability is an important topic in Hella’s role as a fruit buyer. She studied eleven modules in total focussing on sustainability by choosing ‘Principles of Sustainability’, ‘Sustainable Soil Management’ and ‘Evaluating Sustainability’ at Cranfield University. These courses helped her to understand the challenges faced by both domestic and foreign growers. “I found lifecycle analysis, circular economy principles and plant genetics fascinating. The content has helped me to understand how produce can be grown more sustainably and by understanding the core principles I was much better placed to make buying decisions in my role at Waitrose.”

Hella graduated with a MSc in AgriFood with distinction in July 2019 and is now Head of Technical for prepared fruit brand Blue Skies. She uses the knowledge obtained through her studies with the AFTP every day. “The research and content from the AFTP courses helped me to better understand the problems growers are facing and communicate with them on their level. I really appreciate the level of learning I was able to achieve, and I am grateful to both Waitrose and the AFTP for facilitating it.”

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