Ten minutes with Zoë Russell, a trainee buyer with Lidl

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This article is sponsored by Lidl as part of the ‘10 Minutes With…’ series.


How did you get started in your role?

Amidst the uncertainty of the global pandemic in 2020 I decided it was the right time to complete a master’s degree. I chose to study Food Business and Innovation in University College Cork. I have always loved cooking, baking and food in general. Similarly, I thoroughly enjoyed studying economics, alongside German, for my undergraduate degree. Choosing a masters that caters so perfectly to my interest in food and business was a no brainer. The third semester of my yearlong masters involved an internship opportunity. The Lidl graduate program is held in very high regard. Therefore, when I saw a buying internship at Lidl advertised, I was eager to apply. I had never really considered myself in the role of a buyer or realised the ins and outs of a buying position. In my masters we had studied modules such as category management, marketing, and product development. The internship presented an opportunity to transfer my skills from an academic to a practical settingLidl as a company, although based in Germany have been an integral part of the Irish community since 2000. The prospect of using and developing my German language skills while gaining valuable corporate experience with a top performing retailer was too good to pass up. Thankfully, I was successful in my interview and began my internship with the Lidl buying department, specifically working with brands. In conjunction with my new role, I completed my master’s thesis, conducting market research on Lidl’s behalf. My thesis examined the impact of own brand versus branded products in the food retail sector. My internship was six months in length. However, from very early on I was eager to stay with Lidl. When I learned about a new trainee buyer program being launched within the company, this was the obvious next step. After a challenging interview process, I am currently in my eighth month of the year-long trainee buyer program. It has been an eye-opening and rewarding experience so far, one that I couldn’t recommend enough to anyone considering applying.  

Why did you choose to work with Lidl?

Not only are Lidl the fastest growing retailer in Ireland, but their progressive ideologies align with my own. I am very proud to work for Lidl for so many reasons. Amongst them, their trailblazing period poverty scheme, continued efforts to combat climate change and increase biodiversity, as well as their fast acting, innovative decision to provide reasonably priced antigen testing during the pandemic. Not only have they reinvented what a food retailer can accomplish, they also treat their employees fairly and with respect. On top of this, I was excited to work with a thriving multinational company, where I could grow my abilities. As an international company, I was also drawn to Lidl for the potential of future relocation and the opportunity to travel. Lidl is very close to my heart, as a student I relied on the retailer for high quality and low prices. I’d go in for a litre of milk and somehow come out with a dog bed and a toaster. This range of products continues to amaze me!

What are you working on at present?

Food retail is constantly evolving so there is never a dull moment! I was recently fortunate enough (and advanced enough in my training) to be given my own food category, I am now the buyer of sweets and chocolate for Lidl Ireland. If you had told me as a child that I would get to buy chocolate for a living I probably would have collapsed with excitement, I mean I’m basically Willy Wonka! It is an incredible opportunity that I cannot wait to get stuck into. I’m currently working on a lot of exciting projects as well as continually progressing my training.

What is the best part of your job?

I’d have to say it’s the people, being able to interact with and learn from my colleagues on a local and international level as well as communicating with suppliers and building long-lasting relationships. Also being able to eat chocolate ‘for work’ is pretty great!

Is there a career moment you are particularly proud of?

Receiving my product category was certainly a career high point. Moreover, I received the news before Christmas that I achieved a first-class honour in my master’s degree and our graduation ceremony will be held in the spring. Reflecting on how difficult both 2020 and 2021 was for everyone, I am so grateful that I was able to achieve something positive during such a difficult time. And that this achievement has resulted in an exciting role and future potential for me.

Where do you see your industry five years from now?

The pandemic has shown our reliance on the food retail industry, but I believe it has also improved the nation’s relationship with food. Lockdown allowed people to rediscover their love for cooking and baking (we all tried our hand at a banana bread or feta pasta bake). I expect the convenience of online food shopping to continue to grow in popularity and availability. These days consumers are expecting more from their supermarkets therefore an increase in healthy, organic, and sustainably sourced products with an increased range to suit all dietary requirements is inevitable. Improved customer service and social responsibility will also become more prevalent. Similar to Lidl’s mission statement, value is king, consumers are ever more expecting high quality at a lower price. Lidl prioritises this growth and works hard to be a reliable and trustworthy food retailer. I envisage Lidl will still be a pioneer in this industry, continuously innovating and breaking ground.

If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice at the start of your career, what would that be?

Don’t be so hard on yourself. We are our own toughest critic and sometimes that can be our downfall. I am still learning to take pride in the little victories, change doesn’t happen overnight.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about interviewing for this position?

Go for it, you won’t regret it! This role provides valuable insight into a vast world that goes on just under the surface of your regular grocery shop. There are so many graduate opportunities out there, and it can be overwhelming, but the Lidl Trainee Buyer Programme presents you with so much freedom to expand your skillset. The programme is tailored for people like you, someone who needs an opportunity to show the industry what you have to offer. It is the perfect springboard to launch your career.

What would you say are the key skills and capabilities necessary to be good at what you do?

Creativity, communication, and determination. It is not easy work, but it is extremely rewarding. Being able to envision a product and bring it to life is an incredible process. However, this takes resilience and being able to effectively communicate. Listen to your own instincts but also take every opportunity to learn from the people around you.

What is the best career lesson you have learned so far?

Control what you can control. The more you stress about things that are out of your control the less productive you will be. Focus on your work, everything else will fall into place and the results will speak for themselves.

If you were applying for the role today, how would you prepare?

Go into Lidl and look at the products, study the range and see if you can spot any gaps or opportunities in the assortment. Innovation is key to success and Lidl are constantly looking to grow and evolve with the consumer and the market. Be passionate, this is an exciting next step in your career, let them know that you really want this opportunity and prove your worth!

What does the role of a trainee buyer entail?

The role is extremely challenging, but exciting. No two days are the same! The trainee buyer program offers a unique insight into all aspects of the business. On a daily basis I liaise with marketing, supply chain, promotions, sales, logistics and many more departments. I conduct regular market reviews to analyse competitor’s assortments and general market trends. I communicate with national and international suppliers, continuously sourcing new products and negotiating the best prices. This role allows you to be creative, to develop new products and be involved for every step of the production and merchandising process. Time management is very important and learning to prioritise and juggle many tasks at once. Working independently and as a team with the ultimate goal of managing your own product category. Lidl is willing to invest in your progression, giving the opportunity for further development. To learn more about Lidl, and how YOU can apply for their Trainee Buyer Programme, check out their full profile here. For more on latest news in the hiring space, make sure you checkout our recruitment news section. If you are a recent graduate or just someone seeking to explore the job market, make sure to check out the different recruitment opportunities with Recruit Ireland:


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