A Day in the life of an NPD manager

‘I can’t think of a tastier job’

Demanding, evolving, delicious. That’s how new product development manager Jennifer Clarke describes working at Cucina Sano, part of the Bakkavör group. She shares a day in her life with FoodManJobs.

No two days are the same in this job. But one of the patterns is that Monday mornings tend to be focused on meetings so people from every department in the business sit around the table to discuss the challenges current projects are raising.

One of the biggest challenges we’re facing at the moment is that many of our ingredients are being hit by inflation so, as the prices rise, it’s our duty to provide our customers – which include the UK’s major retailers – with the same quality end product at the same price.

‘Gilding the lily’ is a phrase we use a lot. Do we really need that bit of chopped parsley sitting on the top of the dish, for example? We have to question whether additional ingredients like that are really necessary because they all come at a cost, especially if you want to remain competitive. I’m never on my own with any decisions like that because we have a really strong team here.

What I do after Monday morning meetings depends on the time of year. I work on fresh foods so April is a big launch season for me for products like olives and antipasti, for the picnic season. It’s a really varied job and the structure of the day depends on whether we’re taking a client brief for a new product, or whether the product’s in development or at the launch stage.  

I work across two Bakkavör sites so, on some days, I have to travel between them and I also travel to London to visit clients, or sample food in restaurants. I often visit ingredients suppliers and I’ve been lucky enough to visit an olive farm in Italy, which was a fantastic experience.

The days I enjoy the most are the ones when we receive the briefs from our customers and the days when you launch new products. It’s really exciting when you’re about to get stuck into something new and there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a product you’ve created going out the door.

I stay close to my products from concept through to launch. When a product’s in development you’re living and breathing it, from the initial costings stage to sourcing the ingredients, tasting and presenting samples to a client.

Once the customer’s signed the product off we progress to the production stage, which means handing it over to the factory. We talk them through the recipe, the costing and the packaging so they can start running trials. We work alongside the chef to taste the product and ensure it maintains consistent quality. Making a product in a kitchen is very different to scaling it up to industrial levels of production. For example, when you are producing industrial-scale volumes of a sauce it takes longer to cook, which alters the viscosity.

Our new products are our babies so we stay close to them to make sure they’re being looked after through the handover to the factory and then to launch.

When you finally see your product sitting on supermarket shelves the job makes so much sense, it’s a buzz seeing shoppers putting something you’ve designed in their baskets.

When you work in fresh food the pace is fast and unrelenting and you work to really tight deadlines. It’s demanding but it’s constantly evolving. It’s a fantastic industry to work in, I can’t think of a tastier job.

Bakkavör facts

  • Supplies own-label fresh prepared foods to seven of the top 10 global grocery retailers
  • Employs more than 19,000 people
  • 32 facilities in the UK, more than 20 sites in seven other countries
  • Manufactures 6,000 products across 18 categories
  • £1,694.2M sales for 2012

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