Spoonful of Knowledge into Weetabix: An Insight into their Legal Team

As we are often told, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The right fuel will keep you going so it seems, but what about the team working hard to provide you your favourite first meal of the day? To be the centre of the UK’s number 1 healthy breakfast cereal is no easy job and as the Head of Legal at Weetabix Food Company, Helen Wilson knows. Helen leads the Weetabix Food Company legal team and takes responsibility for overseeing the legal function of the Weetabix Food Company business, both in the UK and overseas.

“Protecting our brand is key to Weetabix, as is data security and we are currently looking at process efficiencies to drive improvement and the provision of legal support services.

“Within the legal team we have a two-year strategy to make sure we have effective processes for getting things done. We are also looking at innovation and ways that we can approach the volume of legal support a business this size requires and to add value to the relationships that our teams are building.

“These processes will also allow us to feel more connected with our teams globally, which gives us the foundations to react quickly to any situation that arises”, shares Helen.

This month she shares with Lawyer Monthly more about her role. From her morning routine to ensuring ecommerce does see us waving goodbye to traditional retail, Helen speaks on how her legal team works to the best of their ability.

As a lawyer providing a support service, you need to get under the skin of the business and so we are spending more time in the plant to really understand and appreciate how we make tasty and nutritious cereals and breakfast drinks.

What took you most by surprise when you first began working as Head of Legal at Weetabix Food Company?

When I joined the team, I was surprised that for such as iconic and established, well-known brand, there is such a family feel to the business. When you think of Weetabix you think of the famous yellow box, but everyone here is very down to earth and we all work together to ensure we are doing the right thing.

 

What are your plans for the company in the next year? What are you hoping to achieve and how will you go about it?

With the change in leadership and the pace of recent legislative change, we have the opportunity within the legal team to re-engage with the business to ensure that we continue to operate in a safe, legal and complaint way but as an approachable and accessible legal support service. It’s vital that the legal team are here to help the business develop and can work closely with brand teams to offer commercial and pragmatic advice, not acting as a barrier to success. We will also work to support our teams worldwide and improve that accessibility on an international scale, so we are connected as a business.

With it now so easy for consumers to shop for groceries online using their ‘favourite’ shopping lists, it’s vital we continue to educate shoppers on new products that they might have previously been introduced to via campaigns on the supermarket aisles.

What challenges do you face when trying to entwine a family-focused brand to be a commercial product which leads the market?

This comes naturally to Weetabix as it’s a product that people want. Eating a healthy nutritious cereal is a great start to any family’s day and it is the reason Weetabix was created more than 85 years ago – and why we’re still the nation’s favourite cereal today.

We constantly review safety standards to ensure we’re ahead of the game. There is new legislation introduced all the time, such as the recent GDPR changes, so we have to monitor these and be ready for any challenges.

Our marketing team are very creative, so we have to be ready to offer commercial advice that can help ideas get off the ground rather than acting as a block for creativity. We are there to help the team continue to produce leading brands in the market and to create good value for Weetabix Food Company.

How does your legal expertise guide you and your team through these challenges?

I have over 21 years’ experience as a practising solicitor in private practice and in house. It is important that we remain on top of the game, both in terms of legislation on the horizon but also the strategy for the business. We need to imbed legal services within that strategy as trusted advisers, so that we are there at the beginning and help to get the business over the line. That means we need to raise the profile of the legal team and contribute to operational effectiveness by working closely with our experienced technical team who look after the quality aspects of Weetabix Food Company products. My previous experience has taught me that as a lawyer providing a support service, you need to get under the skin of the business and so we are spending more time in the plant to really understand and appreciate how we make tasty and nutritious cereals and breakfast drinks. That means our advice is commercial and relevant. My youngest daughter thinks I make Weetabix anyway!

Having passion and enthusiasm for the brands is central to this role. It’s also important to offer a commercial and pragmatic approach to help brands reach their full potential.

With e-commerce taking over retail, what do you think is vital in ensuring Weetabix, or other food brands do in order to remain ahead of the game?

With it now so easy for consumers to shop for groceries online using their ‘favourite’ shopping lists, it’s vital we continue to educate shoppers on new products that they might have previously been introduced to via campaigns on the supermarket aisles.

Health, obesity and sugar levels in foods are three current issues for manufacturers and are big talking points for consumers. Weetabix original is categorised with all green on-pack traffic lights for low sugar, salt and fat, so it’s important we are prominent in the market place in showcasing Weetabix as one of the most nutritious breakfast cereal options available for a breakfast occasion.

 

Are there any specific regulations or legal areas which can cause problems in the food industry, especially when wanting to expand internationally?

I do a lot of Intellectual Property work for our brands, while food safety and competition laws are also key areas for us. We also spend time looking at legislation in new territories to ensure we have considered everything before launching in a new market.

 

Aside from working tremendously hard and have refined knowledge in your area of expertise, what do you think was an important factor behind becoming Head of Legal at such a renowned company? What would you advise those aspiring to be in your position in the future to do?

Having passion and enthusiasm for the brands is central to this role. It’s also important to offer a commercial and pragmatic approach to help brands reach their full potential.

I’ve wanted to work for Weetabix Food Company for a long time, I love the British feel of the business, as well as the fact that all the wheat for Weetabix original is sourced within 50 miles of the plant in Burton Latimer.

My advice for anyone aspiring to be in an in-house role, is that it’s about being a general contributor to the business, understanding the pressures that management and your peers are experiencing and adapting your advice to give an appropriately commercial solution (or at least identifying the level of risk). It is not just application of the law, but about having lateral commercial thinking to support the business.

 

What different things do you have to take into account when working overseas than solely in the UK?

It’s important to take account for the local jurisdictions and customs that will come into play on an international level. We operate in markets around the world that all operate very differently. It’s about maintaining good communications with the team on the ground and understanding their challenges so that you can move quickly when issues arise.

 

Why did you pick law?

I chose to be a lawyer as I wanted a career when I left university. As a female growing up in the 1990s I wanted to be an independent working woman and thought that law would be good sector to do that. My dad worked for a building society and we ended up moving around a lot as a result of his work, so I wanted a career where I could dictate my location and my next move.

 

Aside from a big bowl of Weetabix, of course, how do you start your day as Head of Legal? What is a good morning routine for a legal expert to have?

Firstly, I drop my two kids off at their school’s breakfast club (Weetabix Food Company products only!), before my 13-minute drive to work where I’ll either call my parents or listen to Radio 2. I arrive at work around 8.30am, make a black coffee, check my diary and crack on with the day’s work. I’ll have an Alpen bar mid-morning to keep me going until lunch.

Weetabix Food Company invests a lot in their people and there are often courses and support to ensure I’m happy and maximising my energies to ensure top performance for the business, whilst being efficient with my time.

Helen Wilson
Head of Legal

Helen Wilson is a qualified commercial finance lawyer with extensive transactional and advisory experience gained in international and national law firm practices. She advices in house and combining legal and commercial skills at Weetabix. Here Helen works closely with the Board and senior leadership team to help manage a wide spectrum of legal matters that impact the FMCG business, from where they make Weetabix and their products to procurement of ingredients and supply of services – like warehousing and distribution – as well as supporting our commercial customers and retailer teams.

Weetabix Food Company makes Weetabix, the UK’s number one selling, most trusted and most recommended cereals. It is home to some of Britain’s most famous and iconic brands including Weetabix, Weetabix Minis, Alpen, Weetabix On The Go Breakfast Drink, Ready brek, Weetos and the popular Alpen bars.

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