Darren Smith joined Ferrero in February as National Accounts Manager. In normal times, his would now be a familiar face in vending; but things being as they are, when we spoke he’d just had his first face-to-face meeting with a customer since March…
By Ian Reynolds-Young
His predecessor, Craig Howard, remains in the business in a new role and Darren’s arrival has been the catalyst for some internal re-structuring: in addition to vending, Darren will oversee the Ferrero business in the leisure, hospitality and travel industries.
‘It’s quite a big remit’, Darren says cheerfully, as he takes another slug of coffee from a mug emblazoned with the logo of Liverpool FC, (of which, more later). Be that as it may: his CV suggest he has all the experience required to make more than a go of it.
‘I spent 20 years at Cadbury in a variety of roles’, he says, ‘culminating in the position of Head of Food Service, UK & Ireland, in which I was responsible for the company’s portfolio of cheese products. Following that, I spent a couple of years at Andros, a privately held, family-owned food manufacturing company based in southwest France, as Head of Food Service.’ Darren confesses that the commute from his home in Lee-on-Solent to the company’s London offices became too much. ‘Madness’, he says. Logistics notwithstanding, the move to Ferrero ticked all of Darren’s career progression boxes. ‘It was as though the job had been custom-designed for me’, he says, ‘the proverbial ‘offer I couldn’t refuse’.’
He had hoped to hit the ground running at Ferrero, but within a week, COVID closed in and all bets were off… ‘It was very frustrating’, Darren says, ‘but on the upside, the lockdown gave me a unique opportunity to understand the business and the customers and to appreciate any issues or problems that I would need to address. I feel as though my real role in the business is only just beginning and I can safely say that in all my career, I’ve never been better prepared!’
I can’t help but wondering – as a Manc myself – why a Hampshire man would be a Liverpool fan. ‘Not just a fan, a season ticket holder’, he laughs. ‘A ten-hour round trip for every home game. That’s what I call ‘dedicated!’
As a United fan, that’s not what I’d call it, but hey-ho…
‘My mum was a scouser’, he says, anticipating my next question. ‘I was born in London, so it must be in the blood!’
For this family man, football is in the blood. His father was a pro for Watford and Spurs and Darren, now in his fifties, still plays at a competitive level with team-mates who, until recently, graced the game as non-league players. ‘I’m not sure how long I can keep up the pace’, he says.
Wife Jackie, to whom Darren’s been married for 23 years, may have to steel herself to the prospect of her man spending rather more time at home in the future. Having said that, his ‘new’ job at Ferrero will entail a lot of motorway driving – that’s if long distance client meetings are still a part of commerce in the New Normal.
‘Whatever it takes’, Darren reflects. ‘in common with just about every other business in the sector, we have a lot of catching up to do. As you’d imagine, our business with cruise lines and air charter companies has been decimated and it’s very good news for us that, despite the pandemic, our business in the USA continues to do very well. Still, we have a long way to go in we are going to get the numbers back to what they were pre-Covid.’
As for his plans for vending, Darren tells me that Ferrero is currently fine-tuning a promotion specifically for the sector that will ‘go-live’ later in the autumn. ‘I have high hopes for it’, he says. ‘I think that operators will love it, but for now, I’m keeping my cards close to my chest.’
It seems that Ferrero’s new Vending Ambassador has his sights set on really spoiling us…
More Ferrero News on Planet Vending, HERE