Arena Future presents

‘Connect – How to Build Your Network’

Arena Futures is the brand NEW arm of Arena aimed to help and support new talent and rising stars within foodservice and hospitality to Connect, Develop and Grow within their businesses and careers. 

Arena Futures events are in addition to Arena’s existing event portfolio and its first live event 'Connect - How to Build your Network' took place on Tuesday 22nd March at The Glassblower, Piccadilly, London and welcomed speakers Andrew Allen, CEO and Partner, Biff’s Kitchen, Emma Heal, Managing Director, Lucky Saint and James Hacon, Chief Marketing Officer, MAPAL Group.  

Attendee List


Take a look at the attendee list for this event.

Event Review

Arena Futures goes LIVE!

Arena Futures has made a LIVE debut with our first face-to-face event since launching in 2019.

A summary by Arena Futures Chair, Karis Thomas

After two years of planning, of hosting virtual events, building a network via social media and waiting for the right moment, myself and the Arena Futures committee launched our first face-to-face event, titled ‘Connect – how to build your network’ on Tuesday 22nd March.

The setting was perfect, as 50 brave new faces joined committee members Ellen, Natalie and I in a private room at the trendy Glassblower pub in Piccadilly on the beautiful sunny spring evening.

We began the networking practice as soon as guests arrived, with a classic icebreaker where attendees shared an anonymous fact about themselves on paper and drew out a fact someone else had written, before trying to find who they’d drawn through networking the room. It could be anything from ‘I like pineapple on pizza’ to ‘I climbed Everest’ – although no one claimed the latter.

Writing our own facts just before anyone arrived, we found that it’s not an easy task to find somewhere in the middle between interesting and boastful and our top tip would be to have your conversation starters and personal achievements at the ready for future events – although don’t let that put you off attending.

A lesson in networking

The challenge of appearing interesting led nicely into the first official session of the night, whereby James Hacon, Chief Marketing Officer, MAPAL Group, shared his wisdom on how to and not to network. ‘When networking, your task is to appear interesting so that people remember you’, he shared. His advice continued with a list of top tips to take away for both the new and the well-versed networker.

Following James, MD of Lucky Saint, Emma Heal and CEO and Partner of Biff’s, Andrew Allen informally interviewed each other to share a potted history of their career journeys so far and demonstrate how networking and making long-term connections helped them to find new opportunities which led them both to where they are now. Sharing their own top tips, they talked about the importance of posting interesting LinkedIn content without a humble brag and getting to know everyone without ignoring people because they weren’t the person you intended to meet.

Following the formal sit-down talks, we all dined on an absolute feast of food and drinks supplied by a whole host of amazing suppliers. From chicken wings to Biff’s vegan wings, burgers to nachos… it was time to ignore some of the networking advice to ‘stay away from the food’ [see below] and tuck in.

After lots of interesting conversations and opportunity to practice what we’d learned about networking, the event ended as people began to head towards their trains. We were very grateful for all the feedback we received on the night and are very open to hearing more ahead of our next event this summer, which will be announced in due course.

For a full write-up of all the advice shared on the night, please read on. Otherwise, please do follow us on LinkedIn to look out for more information about future events.

Thank you,


A summary of our speakers

‘The do’s and don’ts of networking’ with James Hacon

It turns out that James is an awesome networker. Having only ever applied for one job in his 15 years in the industry, he made his way up to his current role through the power of networking and making connections. A self-confessed introvert, he explained how it’s useful to consider opportunities to network as a show, where you put on your brave face and walk through any door believing you are a performer. With this insight imparted, he shared his advice as easy-to-follow ‘rules’, which I have somewhat paraphrased below:

  1. People don’t bite and most people who network are genuinely nice. By nature people tend to mix in groups with those they know, however try to be the person who leaves the comfort of familiar faces in favour of meeting new ones.
  2. LinkedIn is your business card. Learn how to use it and post interesting content - congratulate others, endorse people and brands - so that you appear on people’s feeds and are remembered for the things you are interested in. Also add people on LinkedIn who you know will be at an event.
  3. Nobody wants to be sold to. Not at an event, or on LinkedIn the next day. You’ve got to build the relationship first.
  4. Listen more than you speak. Ask interesting and open questions and then when everyone has contributed, you should add to the story.
  5. Know your audience by doing your homework. Seek guestlists if you can and consider adding people on LinkedIn in advance of meeting them. Work out who you want to speak to and make sure you try to know a little about them before you meet, especially if they are event speakers.
  6. Don’t get drunk. Nobody wants to be remembered for all of the wrong reasons, and if you feel you don’t want to explain why you’re not drinking, then order something which looks like alcohol, such as a tonic or non-alcoholic beer. 
  7. The great escape – it is important not to get ‘stuck’ speaking to the same people all night, as you are networking to meet lots of people. Practice leaving conversations with a classic ‘I must go to the toilet’ or ‘I’m going to get a drink’ and remember it’s also okay to simply say ‘I must carry on mingling’ – people know this is the reason you’re there and by moving on, you won’t be monopolising their time either.
  8. Internal networking is important too. There is a big job for you to do internally with senior teams and peers, especially now we don’t always see people face-to-face. It’s okay to ask senior team members to go for a coffee and simply tell them you’d like to hear more about their career journey or get their input on something you’re working on. This can be a great internal career move which also might lead to you being invited to more networking events.

Typing this as an event organiser, I can’t bring myself to add this final tip to the list, however James did recommend that one should consider not eating whilst trying to network. This doesn’t refer to any formal buffet or sit-down meal and rather to any canapes whilst trying to make connections which leads to awkward conversations as things fall down your top. However, nobody likes a rumbling tummy as much as they don’t like food down their shirt, so make sure you do you!

‘Utilising your Network to Build a Career or Business' with Andrew Allen and Emma Heal

Andrew and Emma were next to the floor to discuss how the power of networking has guided them both through some big career moves.

Andrew began by telling how he had started his career in advertising and design and moved to food via a passion project. At the time, he took a brand from ‘a bit of fun’, to putting his house on the line in order to get the product nationally listed. A success story at this point, what followed was a fall-out with his co-founder, selling his shares and starting again with a renewed focus on plant-based where he worked his way to CEO of Biff’s. At this point, he was determined not to be defined only by what he’d already done and said yes to a lot of stuff, which he recommends if you have the time.

He shared, ‘Everyone is full of themselves in advertising and one thing I found quite quickly was that it’s important to know when to be vulnerable and admit when you just don’t know something. This is an important part of networking as everyone likes to help and it makes them feel good too. Through networking, I was asked to move to London and train brands on digital marketing. I got to know a lot of agencies and had an opportunity to start an agency from scratch. I was at a point where I felt I didn’t have anything to lose so I turned down a job offer and off I went, through self-doubt and a bit of imposter syndrome, at the age of 26.’

Finding your motivation

Andy shared that his motivation was wanting to ‘do more’ and so he started applying logic to what he did. Despite not ever wanting to sell, and wearing his heart on his sleeve, he realized that ‘sometimes you do need to just walk through the door and perform – and it can be fun.’

Emma added, ‘It’s important to find your motivation in work. In my 20’s I didn’t want to get fired. Then in my 30’s I got better at what I was doing and wanted my team to see I was doing a good job. Now in my 40’s [you’d never guess she was!], I want my two daughters to be proud of me, but also my team. Whatever it is, find your motivation not to stand together like sausage rolls and get out there and network.’

When Andy stepped away from advertising, he liked the idea of starting from scratch. He learned from mistakes such as walking into pubs unprepared and saying ‘would you like to buy this’ and being told ‘No’. He then started meeting people at trade shows and emailing them to say ‘do you want to do dinner?’. He said, ‘We went for dinner and split the bill and it was great. We all stayed in touch and there were a lot of entrepreneurs in the room. If you can get past the fact that sometimes networking feels a bit forced, then it’s lovely.’

A turning point in networking

Following an appearance on Dragon’s Den, where Andrew and his business partner secured a £70,000 investment in Snaffling Pig Co, people started to go to him for advice and he really started to build his network. At this point Andrew took on some non-exec roles. ‘You’ve got to expect to give more than you get in exec roles. Don’t expect these things to be a quick sales thing. Over time you meet people and things happen and this leads to other things.’

Emma added, ‘Always ask people, what can I do for you? If you give something to someone then they owe you and this can come in handy’.

Andrew also runs a podcast. From this he’s made further connections and met senior execs, which has provided more opportunities for his vegan junk-food brand Biff’s. Andrew shared how it’s important to do your homework when reaching out to people too, with an anecdotal story about butcheries having approached him despite being a vegan brand.

Through his connections, Andy was introduced to Andy Kemp, the Sales Director of Bidfood and through some good networking where Andrew applied the approach of connecting without selling and talking about anything but product, he ended up cooking for an exec meeting of Andy’s which led to him speaking at an Arena event and ending up on the Arena committee.

Andrews top tips included helping other people to make connections – as giving something to others means that one day you can call upon them too; never ignoring people just because they’re not the person you’re aiming to speak to; always remember the receptionists name and thank the people who organized an event or meeting; and remember that a lot of people are ambitious like you. Therefore, be patient, treat people nicely and back yourself and opportunities will come.

Emma’s early career

Following this, it was time for Andrew to interview Emma. Emma has worked in FMCG for 20 years and is the MD of Lucky Saint, the alcohol-free beer. When she came out of university, she applied for every graduate role she could find and joined Tesco believing she was in marketing until day one when she walked in and they said, ‘So you’re a buyer’.

Every single job since then she has found through people she knew asking her to take a look. She joined Innocent Smoothies when they were a smaller supplier of 50 people and found the change from Tesco very suited to her personality as she was to be enthusiastic about products ‘rather than holding the procurement poker face.’

Making a mark internally

Emma described how networking is not just about walking into a room and meeting people but it’s also about meeting people within your business. One of her biggest achievements was taking the Innocent knitted hats campaign [I’m sure you all know it] national with Sainsbury’s and one of the key parts of the campaign was getting the internal teams at Sainsbury’s involved.

‘There’s also so much value in knowing the strengths of others in the business,’ Emma shared.

Emma moved to Denmark and set up Innocent in Sweden from scratch by networking, when somebody who knew she’d lived in Copenhagen approached her to run a team of ten. Then, in her early 30’s, Emma was recruited to work for Diageo and fly around Africa. After three years, the young guy she had run the Innocent campaign with when she was sales manager and he was marketing manager, was now the CEO of Graze Snacks and called her and asked her to work for them as their first employee.

Building a brand through networking

‘Networking is about making connections but also about building and reflecting your brand. At Lucky Saint we post interesting stuff on LinkedIn and create a warm and friendly environment and do podcasts and as a result last year we ended up recruiting 14 people in three months without using a headhunter, because they came to us.’

Emma spends an hour a day on LinkedIn. ‘There are three important parts to any role. Number one is your day job and what it says in your contract. Number two is your internal peer group and you are there to challenge their areas of the business too, as ultimately you want the whole pie to grow. Number three is your role externally, which is the bit that’s often forgotten about. You are an ambassador for your business and also need to be a sponge and bring information back to your business. Try also to be even more outward lookin, by finding someone with your job title in another industry and inviting them for a coffee to find out how they do things. There’s some amazing stuff you might want to bring to the sector.”

Using networking to find your dream role

Emma left Graze when they sold to Unilever, having recently had her two daughters. At this point she really boiled down exactly what she wanted from her next role. She networked before going on maternity leave, met lots of head hunters and put her job requirements out to the universe. One day, Luke, the founder of Lucky Saint contacted her, but the time wasn’t right as her daughter was just born. Then, one day a friend from Innocent contacted her and introduced her to the co-founder of Distilled Ventures, the Venture Capital arm of Diageo which invests in tiny brands, and he told her about Lucky Saint and said ‘you must meet Luke'. As soon as Emma tried the product [Non-alcoholic beer], she decided she was in before even discussing salary, and was grateful that this and most of her previous opportunities had been found through networking.

Contacting senior people

When asked for top tips, Emma said it’s important to be succinct – especially when contacting senor people – and sometimes one line will do. ‘When meeting someone senior, you can also look up the latest news for the business and use some of this content for the conversation. Do your homework! Also, always add people on LinkedIn and be pro-active and keep messages punchy.’

Some further top tips came through the conversation, including avoiding chat-up line cheesiness when networking for business, and making sure you break into groups with a simple, ‘Hi, my names is...’ rather than lingering around.

So there you have it... some excellent tips on how to and how not to network and hopefully you feel inspired to know how far networking can get you, too. Our next event will likely be around one of our other themes, of ‘develop’ or ‘grow’ and of course there will be plenty of opportunity to network there as well.

Thanks so much to everyone who came and to anyone who has read this far. We look forward to meeting you again soon.

Karis, Arena Futures Chair.

Event Timings

5.30pm Arrival Drinks and Networking Game
6.20pm Introduction and Welcome by Karis Thomas, Chair of Arena Futures
6.30pm 'Dos and Don'ts' of Networking
7.00pm “Utilising your Network to build a career or business” with Andrew Allen, CEO and Partner Biff's Kitchen and Emma Heal, MD, Lucky Saint
7.30pm Food, Drinks and Networking practice
8.30pm Close