Who is Malachy O’Connor?
The person behind ‘Food First Consulting is Malachy O’Connor. I’m dad to four little girls and husband to Paula. We live in the very centre of Ireland which is a perfect base for traveling, as I begin my new venture.
I have worked for M&S, Fyffes, Dunnes Stores, Superquinn, BWG Foods. Most recently I have worked at Aldi and Tesco in buying director, marketing director and commercial category director roles. The one common theme throughout my career is fresh foods.
Marks & Spencer London 1995-1996
My working career began in London at the Marks & Spencer Head Office in 1995. I took a year out from my food science degree at Queen’s University having secured an exclusive student business placement . I spent the year working as a food technologist in biscuits and savoury snacks and was smitten with the food industry from then on.
I graduated from my BSc in Food Science and secured a 1st class honours degree. My first job after university was at Fyffes where I worked in produce quality control.
Dunnes Stores 1997-2001
Almost twenty years ago, I started working at Dunnes Stores Head Office as a food technologist in their Delicatessen & Provisions Department (cooked meats, bacon joints, seafood, breakfast meats). I loved working on both legal/technical and NPD/packaging. It was the ideal mix of creativity, food and science. I learned so much from the suppliers too.
Dunnes gave me my first buying job in 2000 (buying cooked meats) which really was a defining moment in my career. I quickly had to learn about margins, promotions, merchandising and planagrams. As a food technologist, I understood the ingredients that made up the products and where the costs were. This put me in a great position to buy private label. I really enjoyed my four years at Dunnes Stores. I was truly empowered by the senior buyers who allowed me to grow and learn.
I moved to Superquinn, ‘the experts in fresh food’ and my schooling continued working as the buyer for fish, poultry, bacon joints and breakfast meats. Again, I learned a lot from some great people during SQ’s heyday when each of their stores commanded 0.5% grocery market share.
BWG Foods 2002-2006
I joined BWG Foods as a fresh food buyer in 2002. They were the wholesaler behind the Spar and Mace brands in Ireland and had a cash & carry and food service division too. I really enjoyed my 4 years at BWG for all the same reasons as with Dunnes Stores. The business was in growth and there was a fantastic buzz. This was the tail end of the boom and Spar Ireland was leading the world in convenience and forecourt retail innovations. I was privileged to be part of this revolution and proud to be part of the strategy which launched the Spar International flagship stores in Dublin.
Aldi Ireland 2006-2014
After 4 years with BWG I was ready for something bigger and Aldi gave me that opportunity. It was extremely challenging to work in a business in its Irish infancy but massively rewarding.
I joined as a Buying Director in 2006 and took responsibility for a broad area which included fresh foods, frozen foods and non food specials.The non food categories were an eye opener as I was sourcing camera, optical and power tool accessories from the Far East for sale in Aldi UK and Ireland. I also launched the online photo service which gave me a taste of digital retail.
In 2008, I took on additional responsibilities as Marketing Director and by 2010, was able to expand our media mix with TV. What an exciting time but with a fairly skeletal team, it really tested my resilience!
Successful Ad Campaigns
My marketing role allowed me to have an enormous influence on the overall strategy of Aldi Ireland. I led a project to identify the Aldi brand philosophy and used this to underpin all subsequent marketing campaigns.
After doing the necessary research, we executed the ‘Love Ireland, Like Aldi’ campaign culminating in the highly successful presence at the National Ploughing Championships.
Swap & Save
You may remember the ‘Swap & Save Challenge’ campaign, which was an original idea of mine. It was so successful that Aldi UK rolled it out and it caused such a rumpus in the UK, it was banned after complaints by other retailers to the advertising standards authority! The campaign was shortlisted in the 2014 IPA Effectiveness Awards. I was really proud of this and what it did for the business. It was revolutionary!
No Ifs, No Buts 100% Irish Meat
Before leaving Aldi, I launched the ‘No Ifs, No Buts 100% Irish Meat’ campaign. This brought together my passions for great quality meat, integrated communications strategies and a belief that consumer perceptions of quality rest largely on the protein categories.
I was eight years at Aldi and I loved the simplicity and integrity of the business. I will always be very proud of what I achieved there.
Joining Tesco at a time of great upheaval
I joined Tesco Ireland in April 2014 at a time of great upheaval despite its number 1 market position. As Fresh Foods Category Director, my brief was to halt the decline and drive recovery by re-positioning Tesco as the leader in Fresh Foods.
I was responsible for delivering sales, margin and waste to budget through four buying teams (produce, meat, bakery and chilled) with the support of Group and UK buying teams. For a time, I also managed the technical support team, the fresh foods space and range management resource and the fresh Store Ordering and Waste teams.
The first challenge was to get the team in the right place by filling people and skills gaps. I felt deeply about developing a strong food culture in the commercial team through constant in-house sampling. Day to day, I focused the team on transitioning to cost price purchasing and negotiations rather than lump sum deals. It was important to land some wins to boost morale despite our continual decline. I played to Tesco strengths and delivered top-class seasonal events at Christmas, Easter & Halloween.
Customer and supplier trust had to be regained. We bit the bullet and reduced prices and fixed any anomalies. We also knocked out 15% of the range to make it simpler for customers to shop and reduced the number of promotions by 20%. I worked really hard to embed the new commercial finance processes and the supplier code of practice.
With the basics in place I was able to shift focus. Between 2014 and 2016 I dramatically increased the private label range and took on a leadership role in delivering the quality business plan through meat, bakery and produce strategies. These plans will continue to roll out through 2017.
Delivering The Turnaround
Through my work with the Tesco Fresh Food team, I delivered the turnaround I planned back in early 2014. Fresh food volumes are consistently delivering positive year on year growth. Customers trust Tesco again, they’re responding positively to the simpler range and our suppliers can work more efficiently. Customer quality perceptions have improved too. The team is engaged in end to end buying, achieving cost price reductions to support retail price investment.
My time at Tesco was the toughest but most rewarding period of my career. Turnarounds are not easy but they feel great in the end! I had done what I needed to do and it was time to move on.
My Beliefs and Values
I am a family man. My career is important but my wife and four little girls come first. Now is the right time to work for myself, to use all my 20+ years experience but enjoy a little flexibility to be more active with my family and community.
I firmly believe that my technical background made me a better buyer and that my love of products and customer satisfaction has made me a better marketer. I really respect the expertise held by farmers, producers, processors and I have learned so much from them.
I can help retailers, buyers, suppliers, sellers, marketers and agencies, using 20 years of insight gained in technical, commercial and marketing roles. I am all about the customer and love the products, the stories and the execution of great strategic plans.
I believe strongly about quality food, high integrity relationships and tackling food waste and I think we should all have a bit more fun in the process. Food is really exciting!
If you think I can help your business, please get in touch!