Ever wondered who chooses the food and drinks that we find in the supermarkets? Drinks developer Jenny Rea and food product developer Barbara Ross from M&S give us a little insight into their day-to-day and what it takes to be food developer. From travelling around the world for inspiration and discovering up and coming trends they want to bring over to the UK, to the products they will be bringing to their own Christmas table, Jenny and Barbara filled us in on everything it takes to do the job!
About Jenny And Barbara
Jenny Rea, 40, lives with her partner in London. She has been drinks product developer at Marks & Spencer for 17 years.
Barbara Ross is 51 and lives in London. She has been a food product developer for Marks & Spencer for the past 10 years.
Being A Drinks Developer
What Jenny Does
We wanted to know what being a drinks developer requires and what Jenny’s day-to-day is made up of. Here’s what she told us: “I work with a technologist and a buyer to develop brand new festive drinks each year. I come up with the creative concepts, based on trends and ideas I’ve picked up from local bars, craft breweries, restaurants, food festivals and fairs.”
“Once I’ve found the perfect flavour, my food technologist works out how to make my drink or cocktail on a large scale for our factory, so all our customers can enjoy it for their Christmas festivities.
We started on Christmas 2016 in June 2015, so we’re working about 16 months in advance.
The job also requires Jenny to travel… “Even if I’m lying on a sun lounger in Thailand, I’ll be eyeing the drinks menu and making notes. I’m lucky that I get to travel all over the world looking for trends and ideas. There’s been a wave of New York speak-easy-style bars which inspired this year’s eggnog cream and Christmas cobbler – an American sherry cocktail with a beetroot twist. Gold is really big this year, so I’ve created an amazing crème brulée liqueur with vanilla and burnt sugar in a stunning gold bottle.”
Jenny’s Standout Moment
Jenny’s talks to us about her favourite product this year and why she loves it so much: “We did a White Christmas Cocktail last year with a yogurt base, which sounds weird but it really worked. The packaging was beautiful. Everyone went mad over it.”
Jenny’s Own Christmas
So what’s everyone going to be eating and drinking at Jenny’s this Christmas? “All the family take turns to host and it’s with my parents this year. I’ll go with a bag of my drinks goodies and try them out on everybody. It’s as much a hobby as a job to me – I love it. And I’m especially happy if it’s a drink with home-made Christmas cake and Stilton.”
Jenny’s Top Festive Tip
Here are her top tips this Christmas: “Make herby ice cubes for your drinks. Boil water twice to make it really clear. Add rosemary, dill or orange zest to an ice cube tray half-filled with the boiled water and freeze. Top up with water and freeze (freezing in stages keeps the herbs right in the centre of the ice cubes).”
Being A Food Product Developer
What Barbara Does
Much like Jenny, Barbara travels a lot and is always working on an idea. Here, she tells us more: “I work in a similar way to Jenny, with a technologist and a buyer.
I travel the world looking for trends and recreate them for the UK market. I start over a year in advance, but never switch off from Christmas – I always have ideas in my head. This year, I’ve given British favourites a twist, creating mini versions of hog roast on pork crackling “plates”, posh fish fingers with pea dipping sauce, and mini bacon breakfast cups.”
Barbara’s Standout Moment
We found out Barbara’s top pick from M&S’s festive offering this year: “It’s got to be coming up with my showstopper – dinky hot and sour prawn doughnuts, inspired by Vietnamese flavours and the Chiltern Firehouse crab doughnuts.”
Barbara’s Own Christmas
So what does a food developer do for Christmas? “I go up to my home town of Durham. We always go to a carol concert on Christmas Eve before the feast on Christmas Day!”
Barbara’s Top Festive Tip
“I’m biased but I’m all for stress-free catering, which at Marks & Spencer we do brilliantly!” – we can’t argue with that Barbara!