Starting out in the food industry as a retail merchandiser of frozen foods and perishables for a chain of variety stores across the country, Morgan Davenport knows a thing or two about starting from the bottom and working your way up in the retail food business.
We had the opportunity to speak with Morgan, who has recently transitioned to a sales analyst position, to learn more about her career journey, how she navigates working in a typically male-dominated industry and owning her femininity to achieve success.
What does your current role as a Sales Analyst in the food industry entail? What might a typical day look like?
My role is in retail sales with Danone managing our business with Dollar General. In conjunction with my boss, we oversee forecasting production, working with marketing and trade budgets, mitigating supply-chain issues when possible, making product recommendations for retailers, and developing customer relationships.
What has your career in food looked like? Was it something you came into consciously?
I was lucky. I lived close to the headquarters of the first company I worked at, so I started out there in retail merchandising for five years, and then I left the food industry and went to apparel, specifically men’s underwear, for eight months. I immediately came back because food is fun — much more fun than men’s underwear.
What does being a woman in the business side of the food industry mean to you?
I never thought being a woman would hinder me, and it hasn’t so far. It’s not something I really thought about until it was something that was blatantly right in my face, like when I was called “cute” by a vendor at one of my first-ever meetings. As that vendor’s sales rep, it was a weird, uncomfortable position, but I had to stay firm, and that can sometimes be seen as mean when you’re a woman.
I used to be worried about dressing too girly or acting too girly. [But] just because I write with a pink pen doesn’t mean I’m not doing a great job!
When you hear the term “badass” for women in business, do you feel like there’s a pressure to act a certain way?
I used to be worried about dressing too girly or acting too girly, but I went to a meeting last week with glittery, sparkly nail polish and it was a whole conversation and everyone loved it. For those that don’t know me, I embrace the girly. The sparkly nail polish, I write with pink pens, and that is very much my realm. Just because I write with a pink pen doesn’t mean I’m not doing a great job!
Do you think transitioning from merchandising to sales has been different as a woman when you know that a lot of your counterparts have been (in your previous experience) men?
I’ve had experiences where colleagues have loved a sales rep on our team and referred to him as “his boy,” but because I had already worked for this company previously, I had a small leg up since I also worked for these folks for five years.
I feel like I haven’t really had the setbacks because I am selling to and working with people that I have worked with for years. It makes it easier, and I recognize that this is a unique position and level of comfort for me. Not many can go from one side of the desk immediately to the other.
Have you ever had a moment in the workplace where you didn’t succeed?
When I left my first role, that was one of those moments where I felt like I didn’t succeed. I was promised a promotion that never came to fruition after a year, so when I left it felt like I hadn’t succeeded. But, looking back, it wasn’t an unsuccessful moment because it has certainly shaped where I am now. My current role has afforded me opportunities that I would not have encountered with that promotion. It was a moment of growth and a shift in perspective.
Do you have something that you view as a major accomplishment?
Being recruited for my current position is a major accomplishment, in my opinion. They came and sought me out, so all of my prior experience and working relationships led me to this position. A moment of perceived failure brought me to this full circle moment where I became the perfect person for this opportunity. And, it’s a huge statement of success that they asked for me.
Over the trajectory of your career is there a piece of advice that’s really stayed with you or stuck out as significant?
One piece of advice I have always followed was from my boss three to four years ago. He always told me that the second I stopped learning in a job was when I needed to move. I have very much kept that in my career.
And, what advice do you have for women who specifically want to work in your field? In the business and acquisition sales side of merchandising retail and foodservice?
Don’t assume that you have to be just like your male counterparts to do the job. I have met plenty of feminine women, and they kill it. Embrace who you are.
For people who want to get started in your side of the industry, are there any good resources that you know of out there?
For sales, a lot of it is learning to be more outspoken and read people. I had to become an extrovert to get into sales. I read a lot of business and leadership types of books — the last book I read was the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and my next book is “Good to Great.”
In your experience working with food, is there anything that you’re really excited about in the industry?
There seems to be a shift in consumer habits to wellness and better-for-you foods. People are paying more attention to what’s in their food, and I think that’s really important. Even at the sales level, I had to take an entire class during my orientation on food and nutrition, and I think it’s good to see more companies put an emphasis on that.